Can Europe find a solution to Yugoslav crisis?


By Peter Annear

PRAGUE — When the 35 member governments of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) met here on August 8-9 to draft an appeal for a cease-fire in the bloody conflict in Yugoslavia, they must have suspected Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic wanted to remake Yugoslavia's internal borders, but they were not officially informed of any such plan. Now it is public.

Three days after the meeting, Milosevic chose to unveil his blueprint displaying the boundaries for a new nation, which would exclude Slovenia but include some Serb-inhabited areas of Croatia.

Each time a reprieve in this bitter conflict has been posed, Milosevic has promoted inter-ethnic violence in order to raise the stakes in his campaign for Serbian domination. Despite the nominal acceptance of the CSCE's tenuous cease-fire, the provocative blueprint is certain to ignite further violent clashes.

The plan, which was accepted in principle by an August 12 meeting of representatives from Serbia and Serbian supporters in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Montenegro, was first mooted in 1987 by the Serbian Academy of Sciences at about the time Milosevic came to power, says Judy Dempsey, the Financial Times East European correspondent.

The CSCE emergency meeting gathered in the wake of the flimsy peace of August 6 negotiated by the Yugoslav federal presidency and broken within hours by Serbian extremists. Czechoslovakia, Canada, Poland and Sweden initiated the CSCE appeal, which was agreed to by Yugoslav delegation leader Novak Pribicevic after consultation with the leaders of the six Yugoslav republics about an acceptable wording.


The appeal calls for the warring parties to withdraw their forces from areas of conflict, asks the parties to exercise political control over "their regular or irregular armed forces" and welcomes the EC offer to monitor the cease-fire along with representatives from the CSCE. It increases the number of European observers from 50 to 150, half of whom may be unarmed military personnel.

Vedran Vucic, a member of the International Secretariat of the Helsinki Citizens Association (HCA), which has its headquarters in Prague, told Green Left Weekly the importance of the CSCE meeting was that it helped to stop the war. The HCA was involved last year in the formation of the CSCE

but was not invited to the Prague conference.

"It is important that, under the agreement, no-one can send armed groups into another republic without a previous invitation, and any delegation which goes to Croatia will have to consist only of members who are invited by Yugoslavia. The next step should be to establish some form of international law and order for all Eastern Europe, not something which would permit interfering in internal problems, but some kind of rules of the game with regard to minorities, human rights etc."

On his arrival in Prague, Novak Pribicevic told reporters his government would not endorse the sending of any military observer mission to the crisis regions. He hoped the CSCE meeting would pave the way for renewed talks between the Yugoslav republics on the country's future structure. He also told the Czechoslovak government news service CTK the Yugoslav delegation would oppose economic sanctions against Serbia.

Soviet delegation leader Yuri Deryabin told CTK he was satisfied with the appeal for an unconditional cease-fire. The USSR has firmly opposed European armed intervention in Yugoslavia. Deryabin said the USSR supported the principle of the inviolability of state borders, but did not rule out the possibility that internal borders could be changed.

The Yugoslav situation has implications for the Czechoslovak government, which has so far failed to satisfy the concerns of the people of the Slovak republic for adequate treatment of their national needs. The Civic Forum government here has not supported independence for Croatia and Slovenia.

Faced with a request for membership from Czechoslovakia, the EC has already made it clear it wants to deal only with a united country and not with an independent Slovakia. This suits Prague. However, Slovakian Premier Jan Carnogursky recently stated that Slovakia would be an independent member of the European Community by the turn of the century.

The CSCE meeting proposed that the Yugoslav republics begin new talks by August 15. The EC, Hungary, Austria and others demanded observance in such talks of the principle that Yugoslavia's internal and external borders not be violated, above all not altered by force, and that the rights of ethnic minorities be respected. The Yugoslav delegation opposed the inclusion of these two items.


Since Milosevic bluntly rejected attempts by the European Commission mission, headed by Dutch foreign minister Hans van den Broek, to secure a truce in the war between Serbia and Croatia, the

EC has concluded that the source of the conflict is Milosevic's drive for a greater Serbia. "The question now exercising Western minds", says Ian Traynor, writing from Dubrovnik for the Guardian Weekly, "is: Can Milosevic be stopped?".

Last year, Milosevic "pushed through a new Serbian constitution enshrining his prerogative to look after the interests of the two million Serbs living in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. All the signals are that he intends to fulfill that constitutional entitlement by annexing the territories concerned and then letting a truncated Croatia secede from Yugoslavia", says Traynor.

This planned expansion of Serbian territory could include a large tract of land around the perimeter of Bosnia-Hercegovina. This would give Serbia a port on the Adriatic, possibly at Sibenik, near Knin in southern Croatia. It would take the Serbian border to within 40 kilometers south of Zagreb, and would include rich agricultural land along the Danube on the border of Vojvodina (excluding the Croat-dominated regional capital of Osijek) in eastern Croatia.

The realisation that Serbian expansionism is the source of the problem has moderated Western views on how to handle the situation and created a temporary, though flimsy, unity within the EC.

Military intervention

Several European governments are for military intervention. France has suggested a deployment arranged by the Western European Union (WEU), as the EC has no military authority. Some German politicians have called for military action, though Germany's constitution limits what it can do directly. Luxembourg also favours sending in European troops.

"I could imagine a script by which Yugoslavia will be overruled and controlled by Europe in the future", Croatian academic and feminist Rada Ivekovic told Green Left Weekly in Zagreb in July. "In the long run I am not in favour of this. In the short run it looks like perhaps the only way to stop the violence. Nobody wants new colonies and a new system of domination in the world, but this is what Europe may be lead to: a common European military force to take over in Yugoslavia."

Vedran Vucic adds that, for their own reasons, Serbian and Croatian extremists will not accept any kind of foreign intervention. A better

temporary solution, he says, would be a change in the command of the Yugoslav army, which would allow it to play a genuine peacekeeping role.

European governments have so far looked in vain for institutions

through which to get control of the Yugoslav political process, including the rather impotent EC mission, the newly created and ill-defined CSCE (formed last year as a human rights watchdog), the militarised WEU and now the calls for military intervention in some form. They face an additional dilemma because there is no strong apparatus to turn to in Yugoslavia as a means for resolving the situation.

The weakened and divided Yugoslav federal army may help terrorise Croatian villages, but it is not strong enough to rule the country, and in any case has no political apparatus that could achieve the aim of government. Moreover, army leader General Blagoje Adzic has revived the old League of Yugoslav Communists, a vehicle the West will not turn to to restore Yugoslav unity. Finally, Milosevic has now proved there is no way a pro-Western Serbian regime could assume real Yugoslav leadership because its aim is simply to break the country apart.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.