Partition for Bosnia

June 22, 1993

On May 25 in these columns, we stated that "the Bosnian state recognized by the international community a year ago is a myth and the territory is effectively on the way to partition." Sadly, confirmation of that "harsh truth" is now in hand.

President Clinton, in a shift of declared U.S. policy, said last week he would "have to look very seriously" at a three-way partition plan advanced by Serbian and Croatian leaders. Much the same words were used by Lord Owen, co-author of an ill-starred peace plan he has now abandoned. Most Bosnian Muslims seem to regard partition as a ghastly defeat they will be forced to accept passively or in futile struggle for the unattainable. The massive U.S. intervention they craved has been wisely resisted in Washington.

What partition means is that 2 million Muslims, half the population of the visionary multi-ethnic nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina that received world recognition in the breakup of Yugoslavia, will be crowded into two landlocked enclaves. Meanwhile, Serbian and Croatian Muslims are establishing claims to much larger territories they have won through force of arms -- territories that may well be annexed in time by their respective fatherlands.

This surely is the worst setback for the international community and its agency, the United Nations, since the end of the Cold War supposedly brought on a brave "new world order." Instead, ethnic rivalries and civil wars have erupted in wild profusion. The U.N.'s effort to respond as a neutral and universally respected peace enforcer is now in question, not only in Bosnia but in Somalia, Angola and other hot spots.

The United Nations could not succeed in Bosnia because the European Community, the United States and Russia could not agree on any kind of joint action that would decisively checkmate aggressive designs for a "Greater Serbia" and for an enlarged Croatian state at the expense of the Bosnian Muslims.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher blurted truth last week when he said Germany bears "special responsibility" for urging recognition of the various breakaway states of Yugoslavia without anticipating the dire consequences. But, of course, Germany's allies -- including the Bush administration -- went along. And the rest, as they say, is history -- 14 months of slaughter, rape, hunger, forced migration and political collapse. "Ethnic cleansing" has taken its place as the most chilling euphemism since the "final solution."

So partition is back on the agenda, an idea that might have worked under conditions far more favorable to the Muslims if it had been accepted when proposed in March 1992. But the Muslims, egged on by the Europeans, demanded an independent multi-ethnic state -- a continuation of what had been, without Communist central control from Belgrade. Now, alas, they may have to settle for much, much less -- an arrangement that threatens their viability as a community.

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