Cease-fire in Bosnia Clinton and John Paul II: Pope's lecture on forms of statehood could help peace talks

October 06, 1995

PRESIDENT CLINTON'S announcement of a tentative cease-fire in Bosnia coincided yesterday with what amounted to a political science lecture to warring factions by Pope John Paul II. In his United Nations speech, the Baltimore-bound pontiff said the Balkans conflict showed that the world has yet to learn how to live with diversity.

He drew a distinction between the "state," which can assume many forms, and the "nation," which has a natural right to exist according to its own traditions and culture as long as it does not abuse the rights of minorities. Perhaps with coming peace negotiations in mind, the pope declared:

"This fundamental right [of nations] to existence does not necessarily call for sovereignty as a state, since various forms of juridical aggregation between different nations are possible, as for example occurs in federal states, in confederations or in states characterized by broad regional autonomies."

John Paul's words are likely to resonate in the former Yugoslavia where Serbs, Muslims and Croats have indicated a willingness to see Bosnia reconstituted as a sort of fig leaf state with highly autonomous regions.

U.S. diplomacy, in an active mode after years of aloofness, was instrumental in getting a three-sided agreement on what amounts to the ethnic partition of Bosnia. The accord led directly to the Oct. 10 cease-fire.

The various parties to the conflict are to begin "proximity talks" on Oct. 25. This means they will not sit at the same table but will exchange messages through U.S. mediators. While internal arrangements for Bosnia will predominate, the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Russia will have to work out plans for enforcing a settlement -- a development likely to require the presence of 20,000 U.S. troops. Just how Russia can or will play a peace-enforcement role in conjunction with a dominant NATO force could set important precedents.

Pope John Paul in the past has been critical of the major powers, including the U.S., for tolerating a war that could lead to "the shipwreck of the whole of Europe." He has given his blessing to the use of international force to stop the conflict. Thus, his lecture on varieties of state arrangements could be seen as approval of the latest developments.

The pope said "the fear of difference" between one group of human beings and another was a denial of their "fundamental commonality." And this, he said, can lead to "a true nightmare of violence and terror" -- a description he applied to Bosnia. His influence, especially with Croatian bishops, could help Mr. Clinton's efforts to launch peace talks on an upbeat note.

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