Croatia in, Serbia out

Switch: Former Yugoslav republics take opposite directions on Europe's highway to the future.

May 31, 2000

A DECADE ago, when Yugoslavia's parts were destroying the whole, it was hard to say who was worse, Croatia's Franjo Tudjman or Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic.

Both were autocrats. Both mimicked the late Marshal Tito. Both fomented ethnic passions on the narrowest definition of nationality as inherited religion.

Tudjman was closer to being an honest Fascist who had once sacrificed his career for his exaggerated and hateful nationalism. Mr. Milosevic was more the practical Communist who discovered ethnic passion opportunistically, when needing a basis for personal power. The press was then freer and politics more diverse in Serbia than in Croatia.

How surprising, then, that Croatia has joined NATO's Partnership for Peace and looks forward to eventual membership in the alliance and the European Union. Croatia now seems destined to follow Slovenia as the former Yugoslav republic most integrated into Europe.

Serbia remains an outcast, subject to economic sanctions, governed by thugs and war criminals who are bumping each other off in quest of criminal profits.

Serbia's opposition, suppressed and confused, endures more crackdowns on the press, dissent and assembly. Mr. Milosevic does not care what the West thinks. He is keeping control.

Croatia's secret advantage was the death of Tudjman from natural causes last December. This fortified a free parliamentary election, the coming to power of the opposition, and expanding personal liberties. There is a palpable yearning in Croatia to throw off ethnic fanaticism for the diversity of belonging to Europe.

Serbs can only watch Croatia's good fortunes in envy. This must whet the appetites of the opposition, and stoke the regime's panic. Croatia belongs in Europe's mainstream. But so does Serbia.

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