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Vol 2, No 19
15 May 2000
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An in-depth look at the Yugoslav conflicts Coexistence in Hardship
Ivo Goldstein

It has very frequently been stated by foreign media, professionals and politicians in the 1990s that the wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the latest one in Kosovo were a result of centuries-old hatred and insurmountable differences. This article will attempt to show that this is not the case and that there were very diverse tendencies of social development in the former Yugoslavia. There was hatred, but there was co-operation as well. Yugoslavia was one of the most developed and most democratic of all East European Communist countries; war was mainly a result of negative trends in the 1970s and 1980s.

There are many difficulties concerning the analysis of current events on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. First, there is a lack of good, complete information, many documents are not available, many events have been kept secret and there are many other issues that are unclear, because of the different claims of the different sides involved, and there are even more events that have not been covered by the media. So nobody has the complete picture of the events.

Secondly, in these events many internal and external interests and influences are mixed: rationalism and irrationalism, history and the present are combined. Last, but not least, the events were developing so fast that even our conclusions have changed quite rapidly.

In autumn 1990, one could have said that some Serbs in Croatia rebelled against Croatian authorities because they felt imperiled and deprived of their basic civil and national rights. In spring 1991, one could have said that the Yugoslav People's Army (YPA) was helping Serbian mutineers to destabilise large parts of Croatia and expel the Croatian population from the regions where Serbs and Croats lived together. Then, in June 1991, the YPA started the war against Slovenia, in order to prevent Slovenia from seceding from Yugoslavia.

From autumn 1991, and particularly from spring 1992, the nature of the war in the former Yugoslavia became more obvious. That is, the YPA, strongly supported by the Serbian government and the Serbian populations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, was waging an imperialist war against Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their final aim was either to enlarge Serbian territories at the expense of those two former Yugoslav republics, or, though it now seems less probable, to rebuild the old unitarian structure of Yugoslavia under a direct Serbian hegemony.

The widespread opinion that there was an eternal, festering hatred between the nations of the former Yugoslavia is wrong. There are many examples that would support this thesis, but, on the other hand, there are many more that would prove that coexistence was, and is, possible, such as the myriad of intermarriages and cultural, economic and political contacts, etc. The extreme intermingling between various nations - Serbs, Croats, Muslims and Albanians - living in the same town or village, and their co-operation throughout history, shows that this Babylon of sorts worked; otherwise, ethnically homogenous regions would have been constituted in their stead.

Actually, the cause of the wars in the former Yugoslavia is quite simple to realise, when one examines the role the nationalist and aggressive politics of the Milošević regime in Serbia played in the conflicts. However, this is not to say that history did not play a role in the break-up of Yugoslavia. In fact, one needs to go back as far as Middle Ages, in order to find the root of the conflict.

The roots of enmity

Slavic tribes migrated to the territory of the former Yugoslavia in the sixth and seventh centuries from the old Slavic homeland, situated what are now Poland and Ukraine. Among the first medieval states that were organised, the most powerful were those of the Croats and Serbs, who carried their names from the old homeland and are the only Southern Slavic tribes to have preserved their names from the early Middle Ages. Others, such as Bosnians, Montenegrins or Macedonians, adopted the names of the regions where they lived, and the Slovenes were called simply "Slavs."

At the beginning of twelfth century, the Hungarian Árpád Dynasty brought Croatia under its jurisdiction, and Croatia entered into a personal union with Hungary that lasted until 1918. Bosnia was, up until the fifteenth century, subjugated to Hungarian kings as well, but for some time it was also an independent kingdom. Bosnians were predominantly Catholic, but there was a certain number of "Christians" - members of a dualistic heresy, similar to those in Italy or southern France in that period.

In the meantime, Slovenia became part of the Holy Roman Empire. During the thirteenth and fouteenth centuries, Serbia developed into a powerful state and conquered large parts of today's Macedonia, Albania and northern Greece. Around 1350, Steven Dušan, the ruler of the Serbs, proclaimed himself emperor. Being of Orthodox faith, Serbs were naturally oriented towards Byzantium.

Enter the Turks

Big turbulence was caused by the invasion of the Seljuk Turks. Slowly, but steadily, Turks began conquering the eastern Balkans, and, in 1389, they defeated the Serbs in the now infamous Battle of Kosovo. The immediate weakening and final collapse of the Serbian State followed. In the Serbian tradition, the Battle of Kosovo became a symbol of their nation's tragic existence and a cause for a vow of revenge and hatred against Turks and Muslims, in general.

Turkish conquests, in turn, brought on large-scale migrations. Serbs started to leave central parts of their territory and began to populate regions to the north and west, namely Vojvodina and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Croatia, Serbs repopulated parts that were almost deserted, and many of them (together with Croats) became a virtual standing army against the Turks.

Croats fled to Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Italy or to more secure parts of Croatian territory. Along with the constitution of Turkish rule, "Islamisation" began, which involved the gradual conversion of inhabitants to the Islamic faith, yet they remained Slavs, who spoke the same language as their Christian neighbours. It should be noted that they were Sunni and avoided Shi'a extremism. The Turkish language was used predominantly in administration, because Turkish immigrants were always an insignificant minority.

The aggression of the Turks reached its peak at the end of the sixteenth century, when they ruled over Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and large parts of Croatia. The weakness of Croatia compelled its northern parts to join the Hapsburg Empire, while Istria and Dalmatia were already parts of Venetian Republic.

The retreat of the Turks started when they were defeated by Croats in the battle of Sisak, a town near Zagreb. By the end of the seventeenth century, Croatia was completely liberated, and so was the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina. The Islamic population left those areas and more or less retreated to the south.

Sleepy nations awaken

A new period started in the nineteenth century, with the emergence of Croat and Serb national consciousness, marked by the first Serbian uprising in 1805, when Serbs began to liberate their country from the Turks, with Russia as their constant ally. In the first few decades of their national awakening, they concentrated on the liberation of southern Serbia, but their national programs expressed in the slogan "All Serbs in one state" included Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as large parts of Croatia in the future state of Serbia.

In Croatia, Serbian immigrants, being of Orthodox faith, were conscious of and actively preserved an identity separate from their Catholic Croat neighbours. Croats wanted to form a Croatian nation state, but Serbs wanted to participate in it as an equal factor. In other words, as a sovereign nation and not as a minority. The myth that they were "imperiled" by the Croatian majority developed in the nineteenth century and is still used today. So, relations between Serbs and Croats in Croatia, as well as between Croatia and Serbia ranged from unity and collaboration on one hand, to open expressions of intolerance and hatred, on the other.

Serbia was, in 1878, recognised as an independent state. At the same time, the Austro-Hungarian Empire occupied, and a few years later annexed, the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Thus, Serbia had to suppress its ambition to gain control over the territory. In 1912 and 1913, two Balkan wars took place, and Turkish rule was completely ended in central parts of the Balkans.

In the first period of the Serbian liberation war, the Islamic population was, as a rule, expelled, and mosques were destroyed. In the south, in Sanđak and Macedonia, however, Muslims were allowed to stay. By enlarging its territory, Serbia became neighbours with Greece and Bulgaria, making it obvious that it could not gain any more territory in that region, so it turned to the west.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was already weakened by internal national conflicts, and the question of Bosnia was never resolved in a manner that could satisfy both internal and external interests. Serbian ambitions to conquer Bosnia could have been achieved only by war. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand in 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Serbian nationalist organisation, Black Hand, was supported by the Serbian government and was a direct cause of the outbreak of World War I.

A kingdom of Serbs

The outcome of the war for Southern Slavs was the creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918, ie the Kingdom of Serbia and the Kingdom of Montenegro, together with the former Austro-Hungarian lands - Hungarian Vojvodina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia - were unified in a single state. From the very beginning, this new state was in a deep crisis, as it was based on a fundamental misunderstanding. The Serbs thought that this state was nothing more than their reward for their victory in World War I, that they had a special status, because they annexed territories of nations which fought on the losing side.

On the other hand, Croats primarily understood this state as a fulfilment of the Yugoslav idea, which was developed mostly by Croatian politicians in the nineteenth century. These politicians thought that Croatia was too small to defend itself alone against the centralising tendencies from Vienna and the dangerous Hungarian nationalism from Budapest, so they tried to strengthen their contacts with other Southern Slav brethren.

Serbian hegemony was imposed from Belgrade. Previously it had been agreed that the dilemma of whether to form a republic or monarchy would be resolved in a democratic manner, but the Serbian Karađorđević Dynasty showed no willingness to debate its position, and the constitution that instated a monarchy was never accepted by Croatian delegates. In 1928, three Croatian delegates were assassinated on the floor of the Parliament in Belgrade. Among those killed was the charismatic Croatian leader and president of Croatian Peasants' Party, Stjepan Radić. Demonstrations and unrest in Croatia followed Radić's funeral and led to the proclamation of an open dictatorship by King Alexander. Under this dictatorship, national names were forbidden and the state changed its name. Instead of the "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes," it became the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia."

More than today, the core of the Yugoslav crisis was rooted in Serbo-Croatian relations. Slovenes were quite satisfied living on the rather homogenous territory and often collaborated with the central government. Macedonians and Montenegrins were not recognised as a nation, or, in other words, they were considered to be Serbs. Albanians were a small minority and were of no political importance, while Bosnian Muslims and their political organisations were close to the Belgrade government. General opinion held that they could not be a nation, and they were considered only as a religion. So Croats were the only real opposition, and a solution to the Yugoslav crisis was possible only by reaching some sort of agreement in Serb-Croat relations. In 1939, the so-called Banovina Croatia was created, which included territories of Croatia and some parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as the next war loomed on the horizon.

The great majority of Croats were hostile towards the central authorities. A radical Croat separatist movement (the Ustaša) grew out of this discontent and, with the support of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, set up the Independent State of Croatia in 1941, which included the territories of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; a state which organised the mass murder of the Serbs as well as others. Many Croats welcomed the new government, but most of them changed opinion quite quickly - Croatian partisans very soon outnumbered Croatian Ustaša. The Croatian government proclaimed that Muslims were "the flower of the Croatian nation," and there was a certain number of Muslims who joined Ustaša movement.

The legacy of the Second World War

The results of the Second World War in the former Yugoslavia were horrible. One million of the 12.5 million inhabitants of the region died. When broken down into nationalities, however, the figures are different. More then 80 percent of Jews, eight percent of Muslims (who were victims of Četnik - Serbian nationalists - terrorism, but also died fighting for the Independent State of Croatia and as partisans), seven percent of Serbs and five percent of Croats died. On the territory of the Independent State of Croatia, there were 2.1 million Serbs before the war, but 330,000 did not survive: 82,000 died fighting for the Partisans, 23,000 fighting for the Četniks and other collaborators and 217,000 were victims of Nazi and Ustaša terror. On this territory there were around 3.4 million Croats, of which 178,000 were killed: 46,000 fighting for the Partisans, 65,000 as victims of Nazi, Ustaša and Četnik terror and around 70,000 as Ustaša and other collaborators. In Jasenovac, the biggest concentration camp in the Balkans, around 83,000 people were killed, among them were about 20,000 Jews.

In 1945, when Tito's Communists gained power, many Croats as well as others were killed in a campaign to "annihilate the class enemy and remnants of quislings' bands." Around 50,000 soldiers from the Independent State of Croatia were killed by the YPA, when the British army deported them back to Yugoslavia from Austria, where they had fled to. Memories of these events weigh heavily on the present.

As the absolute ruler of Yugoslavia, Tito had a sense of basic justice and that all parties (read nations) should be given certain rights. By constituting republics of Macedonia and Montenegro and proclaiming that Macedonians and Montenegrins are nations like the others and by constituting the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina with a large percentage of Albanians, Hungarians and others, Tito neglected Serbian territorial aspirations. Nevertheless, by constituting a strong centralist government, in which Serbs were the largest nation, Serbia became the most influential and powerful nation within Tito's Yugoslavia.

At the time of the 1981 census in Yugoslavia, the population was 36.3 per cent Serbian, 19.7 per cent Croatian, 8.9 per cent Muslim, 7.8 per cent Slovene, 7.7 per cent Albanian, six per cent Macedonian, 2.6 Montenegrin, 1.9 per cent Hungarian, 0.7 per cent Roma, 0.5 per cent Turkish, 0.4 per cent Slovak and 5.4 per cent delcared themselves "Yugoslav." At the same time, in Croatia 75 per cent of the population was Croat, 11.6 per cent Serb and eight per cent "Yugoslavs." In Bosnia-Herzegovina, 39.5 per cent were Muslims, 32 were Serbs, 18.4 per cent were Croats and 7.9 per cent "Yugoslavs." It is telling that by the time the new census was taken in 1991, the numbers had changed; with the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the distortion of the Yugoslav idea, the number of Yugoslavs diminished, leaving only 12.2 per cent of the population of Croatia declaring themselves Serbs and 44 per cent declaring their Muslim nationality in Bosnia.

As a minority in certain parts of Yugoslavia, Serbs constantly felt under threat (although there was no actual threat), and considered that they might be more secure if they acquired positions in the state apparatus. So, during the whole of the post-war period, Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were over-represented in the state bureaucracy, the ruling League of Communists, the army and the police forces. For example, according to some claims, they made up as much as 67 percent of the Croatian police.

In the army, despite the law that stipulated that national representation should be balanced among the officers, it has never been achieved. According to some approximations - figures are never exact because official data were never published - 70 percent of the officers were Serbs and Montenegrins, although their percentage of the total population was not bigger then 40 percent.

Since, however, the state apparatus in the one-party dictatorship was, by its very nature, repressive, the Serbs who were so well represented within it came to be associated by others, especially Croats, with everything that was wrong with the regime. This created new mistrust and deepened antagonisms within Yugoslavia even more. The situation was further complicated by an economic malaise, which started in the late 1970s. Instead of looking for the causes of the crisis in the failings of an inefficient economic and political system, Croats tended to blame Serbia and the Serbs for Yugoslavia's declining fortune. In Serbia, on the other hand, accusations that their national economy had been exploited by Slovenes, Albanians and, most of all, Croats, became a key motivating force in politics.

After the Second World War, Muslims were granted their own nationality and became the most numerous nation in Bosnia, which created an opportunity to constitute a Muslim national state in Bosnia. Nevertheless, because they became a nation, Muslims were grateful to Yugoslavia, and most of them were fiercely enamoured of the idea of Yugoslavism. In the first period of the Yugoslav catastrophe, in the time of the wars in Slovenia and Croatia, Muslims were predominantly neutral, and, while Slovenes and Croats were leaving the YPA, most of the Muslims stayed. When, in the beginning of 1992, they finally realised what was really happening and voted for Bosnian independence on the referendum, they were condemned to even more cruel punishment than were the Croats.

The multiethnic society of Yugoslavia could be said to have been a normal society in which to live, as far as the politics would allow: the liberal communist society brought prosperity, incomparable with other Central and Eastern European states, the system of self-management gave relative economic freedom to citizens, people who worked abroad were able to send money home to their families and tourism - mainly on the Adriatic coast - flourished. Coexistence was inevitable, as Serbs, Croats and Muslims were neighbours and, in some towns or villages, the rate of mixed marriages exceeded 30 percent.

It seemed that, particularly in Bosnia, this coexistence and intermingling was extremely well developed. Politicians held Bosnia up as an example of how small, yet diverse, Yugoslavia could make it work. Although it never became an official policy, it seemed that the growing number of Yugoslavs would avoid any possibility of national conflicts. Nevertheless, under the surface of everyday life, many people were frustrated because their restricted role and influence in politics did not allow them to say everything they wanted. Bosnia was always ruled by hard-line Communists, who restricted freedom of speech more then in other republics.

Losers in peace

Communist Yugoslavia was a fragile structure. Too large a dose of nationalism from any side would bring the existence of Yugoslavia to its end. Tito acted as the policeman who kept the state together, but after his death in 1980, the nationalist campaign started in Serbia. In 1981, demonstrations by ethnic Albanians took place in the Serbian province of Kosovo. They were put down cruelly, and, according to unofficial numbers, 300 to 400 Albanians were killed and many were sentenced to long-term imprisonment. Kosovo is the cradle of the medieval Serbian State, and these events incited a new wave of Serbian nationalism. Many journalists and historians started, first covertly, but after a while openly, to prove that Serbs were constantly being "cheated" and always the "victims." There is a slogan that "Serbs are winners in war, but losers in peace."

Various theories were created about the "conspiracy of all, ie most of the other Yugoslav peoples and some international factors, primarily the Vatican and former "Nazi" states (Germany, Austria), against Serbs."

A new stage was reached in autumn 1987, when Slobodan Milošević became the leader of the Serbian Communist Party and after that the President of Serbia. He cast himself as the protector of all Serbs living in other Yugoslav republics and incited a nationalist movement, which succeeded in removing unsuitable politicians in the Serbian provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, then in Serbia itself and finally in Montenegro.

There is no doubt that the scenario for the destabilisation of other Yugoslav republics, particularly Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, was established in Belgrade. Milošević stated that, in the pursuit of his aims, he would use "both institutional and non-institutional means, for these aims represent the will of the people." Subsequently, in the summer of 1989, he declared that in the pursuit of his vision of Yugoslavia, "not even armed struggle is excluded." He gained strong popular support in Serbia and particularly among the Serbs in other Yugoslav republics.

When the democratisation process began in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, Yugoslavia was already in a hysterical nationalist frenzy. The primary goal was not to become free, and thus make it possible to express national feelings - to become a Serb, a Croat, an Albanian, etc. - but it was more important to express national feeling and, thus, to become free.

The pressure placed on other Yugoslav republics by Milošević's regime was becoming stronger day by day, and when, after multiparty elections in 1990, the governments of Croatia and Slovenia submitted plans for the reorganisation of Yugoslavia as a confederation. Milošević confirmed that, in that case, a re-drawing of inter-republican borders would have to be considered. Repeating what the President of Yugoslavia and "father of Serbian nationalism," Dobrica Ćosić kept saying in the 1980s in the Western media, Milošević said, "If Yugoslavia collapses, Serbia would allow others to go, but then the question of frontiers will be posed."

Milošević's intentions were clear: if Serbia did not succed in organising Yugoslavia according to his own wishes, ie to create a Unitarian state (which was highly unlikely), then it should proceed with the creation of a Greater Serbia, which would include all the territories on which Serbs live, either as a majority or a minority. Nationalist Serbs never had problems with mathematics, as they had either partially or completely occupied and, thus, in their view, integrated others into their Greater Serbia communities, such as Jajce, where they made up only 19 per cent of the population. Similar situations occurred throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina (particularly in eastern Bosnia), where they represented a minority, or in Croatia Drniš (20 per cent of the total population), Beli Manastir in Baranja (24 per cent), Vinkovci (14 per cent), Osijek (18 per cent), Nova Gradiška (18 per cent) and Novska (21 per cent). Maps showing these demands are even more absurd.

Croatian and Slovenian ambitions for independence are now understandable, especially after it has been proved that nobody can make deals with Milošević. They were the two most developed Yugoslav republics. Although they had only a little more then 30 per cent of the total Yugoslav population, their exports accounted for more than 60 per cent of the Yugoslav total. Croatia was host to more then 80 per cent of foreign visitors to Yugoslav, around 70 per cent of the total Yugoslav air traffic; not to mention about 70 per cent of traffic at sea ports. In the 1980s, revenue from tourism alone was about USD three billion annually - money everyone wanted to claim as their own.

Serbs needed an armed force to reach their goals, and that was the role assigned to the YPA. It was created during the Second World War, when Tito's Partisans fought bravely against Germans, Italians, Croatian Ustaša, Serbian Četnik and others. After the war, the army was Tito's favourite, always showing two crucial characteristics: ideological purity following Tito's Communist ideology and steady "Yugoslavism," which allegedly preserved Yugoslavia from disintegration.

As Yugoslavia was really disintegrating in the late 1980s, however, the YPA was becoming an increasingly dangerous weapon in the hands of Milošević. And Milošević never stopped talking about Yugoslavia, even while he was directly destroying its federal structure. Leading generals always thought that the main threat for the future of Yugoslavia would come from Slovenia and Croatia, and they never concealed this belief. General Branko Mamula, a former minister of defence, said in a lecture given at the Institute for Strategic Research in London in November 1990, "If we are compelled to make use of repressive measures, including army forces, we are convinced that Yugoslavia will be able to control the situation within its frontiers" (Financial Times, 24 November 1990). He also said that the "Croatian and Slovenian proposal for a confederation is not acceptable, because the formation of the national Croatian or Serbian state is not possible without bloodshed."

Top army generals, until 1991, were not classic nationalists, as they were not obsessed by mythological or romantic emotions, as nationalists usually are. They only had a chauvinistic impulse, a prejudice and hatred toward Croatian "nationalism." Their own national feelings were highly utilitarian, and, although most of them were Serbs, they presented themselves as Yugoslavs.

However, during three consequent wars (in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), the YPA was abandoned both of the fundamental principles to which it had dedicated itself. It renounced Yugoslavism at the moment when, after a short and unsuccessful war, it decided to withdraw from Slovenia at the insistence of the Serb leadership (which thought that concept of Greater Serbia should be realised). This was followed by a purge of almost the entire non-Serb senior officer corps.

A final farewell to any idea of a union of equal peoples ensued, when the military leadership took upon themselves the role of the defenders of Serbs in Croatia and consciously began affiliating themselves to the project of the creation of a Greater Serbia, for which, in Croatia, the supposedly federal army became known as the army of "Serbo-Communists." By the time the war in Bosnia started, in spring 1992, it had already been entirely transformed into a Serbian army.

The Communist shake

It was even easier to shake off communism. The League of Communists, which was created by YPA senior staff, never became a significant political force, mainly because Serbia rejected Communism as an historical anachronism. Milošević's regime imposed fascist groups of Četniks as army allies - the very group against which the army had fought during the People's Liberation War. The YPA even had to renounce its traditional red star and adopted the traditional Serbian and Royal Yugoslav uniforms. The old generation of generals was replaced by youngsters, who were characterised by their cruelty, arrogance and insensibility.

It is not easy to answer why the Serbian aggressors are so cruel, so emotionless towards the suffering of their neighbours, friends and sometimes even relatives. Nobody could imagine that such horrors could ever happen.

First, it seems that Serbian propaganda simply implanted in many Serbian heads the idea that "they are always right," that "the others have always cheated and imperiled them," and that they will, logically, live safely only in their own state. Guilt is imposed on Croats because of the Ustaša crimes committed against the Serbs between 1941 and 1945, and even more so on Muslims, because of their "eternal guilt" for the battle at Kosovo. Both nations are blamed for voting for the independence of their republics, which was considered a perfidious act. One top Serbian official said, "This is not a war, this is revenge."

Moreover, Muslims are considered to be Serbs of Islamic faith and are not recognised as a separate nation. Muslims should disappear, as the nationalist concept of Greater Serbia integrates the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina and about three fourths of the Croatian territory, up to the Virovitica-Ogulin-Gospić-Karlobag border. So Croats have their "Lebensraum," however small, but Muslims do not. And this is one of the reasons why the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was crueler than the war in Croatia. The second reason is very simple, because, generally, to commit the first crime is always difficult, but to do it for the second or third time is much easier. When Serbs saw that nobody was punishing them for the atrocities committed in Croatia, they proceeded with the crime by starting the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Also, in these wars pure primitivism played an important role. Many are driven by a psychopathic instinct for destruction, and others find big motivation in robbery, the traditional profession of poor villagers living in mountainous regions. One must not forget the fact that in these Balkan areas many wars have transpired, but none of them have been "civilised," and, as a rule, civilians were persecuted and killed, houses were robbed and burned.

Serbs may have also been instigated by stories about massacres committed by Croatian Ustaša or Muslim "fundamentalists." However, a lot of information served up as Serbian propaganda about the alleged crimes of the Croatian and Muslim forces have been proved to be false. Croats and Muslims committed crimes, of course, but Serbs have committed ten, maybe twenty times more.

Last, but not least, everybody must know who the aggressor is, and who the victim is; who is defending himself, and who is attacking.

The fact that a strong army was backing them, was giving the Serbian fanatics an additional feeling of security and arrogance made them always stronger and, thus, ready not to honour any of the agreements for cease-fires or peace plans. Their logic is: "might is right."

In the end, every side in the wars committed a crime - Croats and Muslims, as well as the Albanians in Kosovo. Nevertheless, one should never forget who began the war.

After the war, everybody was a victim; if Serbs, Croats and Muslims and even Albanians ever forget their mutual hatreds, which is highly improbable, they will still face common poverty, a destroyed country, towns and villages and high unemployment.

The people in the western Balkans, particularly Croats, have spent the last 500 years trying to show that they are a part of Europe. A decade ago, with the introduction of the multiparty system, it seemed that the region was getting closer to Europe than ever before. Now it looks as though Europe is extremely far away, unattainable for many years to come. The question is, when will the next train for Europe pass through the territory of the former Yugoslavia? The victory of the centrist Croatian People's Party in the January 2000 Croatian elections brings new hope.

Ivo Goldstein, 15 May 2000

Ivo Goldstein is Professor of History at the University of Zagreb. His book Croatia: A History was recently published by Hurst.

Moving on:



Focus: Croatia
Dejan Jović
Tuđman's Convenient Death

Dragan Antulov

Sharon Fisher
EU Hopes

Đurđa Knežević
Gender Politics

Mirjana Domini

Zoran Ferić
New Literature

Jurica Pavičić

Sue Bagust

Borko Špoljarić
Music Days

Ivo Goldstein
The Yugoslav Conflicts

Zoran Pusić

Igor Nobilo

Mladen Vedriš
The Economy

William A Everett
Contemporary Music

Anna Maria Gruenfelder
The Church

President of Croatia
Stipe Mesić

Croatian Deputy PM
Goran Granić

Vesna Pusić, Croatian People's Party leader

Vlado Gotovac, Liberal Party leader

Brian J Požun
Tito Revival

Oliver Craske
UK Looks East

Jan Čulík
Roma and TV

Mel Huang
Latvian Victory

Elke de Wit
Klaus Krämer

Culture Calendar:

Ustaša Legacy

PR and Extremism

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