Bloody Bosnia, where war is a raison d'etre

Joseph Brodsky

August 06, 1993|By Joseph Brodsky

AS AMERICA lies in its state-induced moral stupor, lots of people die violent deaths all over the place, particularly in the Balkans.

What's happening now in the Balkans is very simple: It is a bloodbath.

Terms such as Serbs, Croats, Bosnians mean absolutely nothing. Any other combination of vowels and consonants will amount to the same thing: killing people.

Neither religious distinctions -- Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim -- nor ethnic ones are of any consequence. The former are forfeited with the first murder (for "Thou shalt not kill" pertains at least to any version of the Christian creed); as for the latter, all these people are what we in our parts define as Caucasian.

Evocations of history here are bare nonsense. Whenever one pulls the trigger in order to rectify history's mistake, one lies. History makes no mistakes; it has no purpose.

One always pulls the trigger out of self-interest and quotes history to avoid responsibility or pangs of conscience. No man possesses sufficient retrospective ability to justify his deeds -- murder especially -- in extemporaneous categories, least of all a head of state.

Besides, the Balkan bloodshed is essentially a short-term project. Set in motion by the local heads of state, its main purpose is to keep them in power for as long as possible.

For want of any binding issue (economic or ideological), the war is prosecuted under the banner of a retroactive utopia called nationalism. A regressive concept amounting to a flight both from the multinational reality of the Balkans and the melting pot of the future Europe, nationalism boils down to settling old scores with one's neighbors.

The main attraction is that it is highly absorbing (physically and mentally); that is, it takes time and provides employment for a substantial portion of the male population. For a head of state presiding over a ruined economy, an active army with its low wages is god-sent: All he's got to do is provide it with an objective.

Given the Serbian troops' numerical and material superiority over their neighbors, one wonders why this objective wasn't achieved a year or two ago. The answer is that it is not in the interests of the involved heads of state.

Imagine the carnage stopped and the dust settled. What are we going to find in place of the former Yugoslavia, especially with the current men in charge still at large?

A democratic republic? A monarchy? A tyranny? None of the above: a heap of rubble seething with hatred, topped by a bunch of bemedaled strongmen unfit for any other job down the heap. Hence, the slow but steady pace of carnage. Its continuation is these men's insurance.

What should and can be done? The United States should immediately introduce and expedite a U.N. resolution demanding the immediate establishment of a demilitarized zone on the territory of Bosnia and deployment of U.N. troops on the ground for this purpose.

Then membership of the former Yugoslavia in the United Nations should be extinguished immediately. Its flag flies outside U.N. headquarters, legitimizing the Serbian leader's claim that he is the sole guarantor of Yugoslavia's integrity and that the bloodbath he unleashed is a struggle against secessionists.

This membership also entitles Serbia to Yugoslavia's substantial foreign assets (approximately $6 billion), which by now have virtually all been spent for the prosecution of Serbia's military campaign. Through the callousness or neglect of the United States and its European allies, this was allowed to happen.

The remaining assets, as well as the property of the former Yugoslavia, should be immediately seized. Its embassies, consular offices, airline and other administrative representations should be closed, given up for rent, and the proceeds should be diverted to relief programs.

Diplomatic recognition -- in whatever form it currently exists -- of Serbia and Croatia should be withdrawn and not restored as long as the current heads of these states remain in power and as long as the territorial gains made in the course of hostilities by any party are not relinquished.

The current heads of these states -- Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, as well as the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic -- should be immediately outlawed by the United Nations and treated accordingly for the duration of their physical existence, particularly when hostilities cease.

Which is to say that they should be denied entry into the United States as well as all countries with which the United States maintains diplomatic relations, including Switzerland.

Regardless of the outcome of the hostilities, Serbia, the unquestionable aggressor, should be obliged by U.N. resolution to carry the full burden of reparations.

Now, this is not much to ask from our reasonably expensive State Department. Because this would be just, it can be done unilaterally by the United States.

Justice doesn't need a consensus; it the other way around.

Now, the "cans."

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