Noose Around Goradze

April 06, 1994

The latest Serb offensive in Bosnia -- this one against the Muslim enclave of Goradze -- should be a reminder that Balkan wars of partition and attrition are as old as the millennium. Empires and nations wax and wane in that part of the world, with new political entities rising on the graves of the old, and the grievances they leave behind are not forgotten over decades and even centuries.

Thus it should come as no surprise that the tenuous peace forced by the big powers in Sarajevo in February, the Muslim-Croat agreement to confederate and the Croat-Serb cease fire have not brought peace. Ethnic hatreds generated by two years of vicious fighting have destroyed the tolerant living together that, in retrospect, was one of the glories of the shattered Yugoslav experiment. Now begins the painful process separating the Muslims, Croats and Serbs into territories bearable to each. No map yet exists, and when one emerges it will be more a source of conflict than conciliation.

While the world welcomed the lifting of the siege of Sarajevo by Serbs and of Mostar by Croats, it took little notice of counter-offensives launched by Muslims who have much to avenge. But the Bosnian Serbs took notice. And it is at least conjectural that their latest onslaughts against Goradze and other scattered towns are a form of retaliation.

Bosnian Serbs again are broadcasting their plight in an effort to goad the United Nations and the Western powers to intervene on their behalf. The Clinton administration -- so far -- is holding back. According to Secretary of Defense William Perry, "we will not enter the war to stop" Goradze from falling. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili, said yesterday that U.S. air attacks, at least for the moment, would not be effective in checking the small-arms offensive of the Bosnian Serbs. But he added that "no one is giving the Serbs a green light over anything."

Perhaps not. Perhaps the U.S. will bring its air threat to bear as it did in Sarajevo or 800 Ukrainian peacekeepers, if they arrive next week, will give Serbian troops pause.

Goradze is important because it is a microcosm of the Bosnian problem in all its complexity. Like neighboring Srebrenica and Zepa, it is a medium-sized Muslim town surrounded by Serb-dominated countryside. To achieve any semblance of security, it would require a safe corridor to Sarajevo. But how many enclaves and how many corridors can feasibly survive on the Bosnian landscape?

These are the issues that may in time force a diplomatic "ethnic cleansing" process -- one under which Muslims, Serbs and Croats will wind up living separate and apart in more cohesive territories than time and custom have created until now. It may not be a happy solution, especially if what University of Pittsburgh expert Robert M. Hayden calls "a Greater Serbia, a slightly less Greater Croatia and a Muslim West Bank" should emerge. But what is desirable and what actually transpires are often quite different, especially in the Balkans.

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