'Blame the Croats' campaign is having dire effects

Georgie Anne Geyer

June 11, 1993|By Georgie Anne Geyer

MANY of the reports from this lovely but increasingly war-weary Hapsburgian capital make it appear that the Croats have now embarked upon their own war against the Serbs -- and against their former Bosnian Muslim allies as well.

That is not what is happening here, and one wonders how skewed the admittedly elusive "truths" about this conflict can become.

This newest Croatian "war" began Jan. 22, when soldiers of the now 200,000-man Croatian armed forces launched "Operation Maslenica" in the Dalmatian coast region behind the Adriatic port of Zadar, which after two years of war is still under rocket attacks by nearby Serbs. But far from any Serb-style attempt to wipe out everybody else, this was by all accounts a simple, direct attack to unite the Croats' divided Dalmatian coast.

"For 16 to 18 months, Croatia has been cut in half," said Minister of Defense Gojko Susak in an interview in the Defense Ministry here. "The original Maslenica bridge was destroyed by the Serbs, and we only have one ferry connecting us with Dalmatia. There are 700,000 people there plus 200,000 refugees. For months we asked the U.N. forces for help. We informed Cyrus Vance we were going to rebuild the bridge. We wrote letters, pleading -- we even wanted it under international control."

But no one did anything, he explained. Finally, the Croats felt obliged to act, and now "the unfortunate thing is we are proclaimed the aggressors."

The second part of this "new Croatian" war has been taking place around the Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Muslim cities such as Mostar, up in the mountains of central Bosnia. But here, according to the best accounts, what has been happening is bitter but local fighting between Croatians and Muslims who have been driven to total self-destruction, much in the manner of mice who become crazed by being crowded closer and closer together.

"Because of the Serbs, hundreds of thousands of people have been moved," explained Stranco Sancevic, the Zagreb government's ambassador to Bosnia. "In these areas, the Muslim population increased tremendously. Soon, local extremists started destroying the old spirit of cooperation. It is all because of the changing populations."

Accounts differ as to who started the terrible village-to-village fighting, with whole families being burned alive in the pyres of their homes. Croats say it is led by the Muslim "Mujahadin" who have come from Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere to help local fellow Muslims; the Muslims say it is Croat-led.

The Serbs cynically blame this newest inferno on Zagreb, and the international civil servants here tend to accept the Serbs' interpretation because the United Nations and others really believe that if no one does anything to disturb the Serbs, they will somehow be "contained." (It's always been a little tricky to "contain" murderous marauders, but never mind; reason does not play a noticeable role in this conflict.)

Meanwhile, although the Croats have arrested several Bosnian Croats for war crimes, accepted all the Western plans and taken 800,000 refugees from all persuasions, the "Blame the Croats" campaign is having dire effects. Finance Minister Zoran Zasic explained to me, in a frustration approaching desperation, how the World Bank has postponed a $125 million loan merely because of "allegations" that the Croatians were fighting the Serbs again.

"So we were victims of three years of Serb warfare against us," he exploded, "and now we are victims of the international institutions. They are putting us on an equal footing with the Serbs."

The other innocent party in this larger war, which the Serbs have planned and orchestrated since 1987, is the Muslims -- and they remain under the U.N. weapons embargo, which NATO Secretary-General Manfred Woerner calls "unique in man's history and which works against the victim.

"If I compare this to the Second World War, imagine if the League of Nations had placed a weapons embargo on Norway, Belgium and the Danes, the next victims of Nazi aggression. Today, in Bosnia, we have created and accepted a situation where the aggressor has any weapon he wants and the civilian population is under this embargo."

Mr. Woerner's righteous anger over this strange Western morality in Bosnia has been known to silence British defense officials, who cynically support the embargo in order to avoid "prolonging the war." He demands to know what the British would have done in World War II if the Americans had not come in and "prolonged" that war?

Meanwhile, this inversion of morality in Bosnia, where the victim is not allowed to defend himself and the terrorist is given every excuse and advantage, becomes even more contemptible when one reads Article 51 of the U.N. Charter: "Nothing . . . shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations."

PD Such is a story of guilt and innocence in our topsy-turvy times.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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