Letter: How the war began

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The Independent Culture
How the war began

Sir:Hugh Gleaves's tirade against "fascist" Croatia (letter, 16 April) requires a reply: it perpetuates myths manipulated by Belgrade's propaganda machine which have done so much to prolong this war.

The war did not begin with Nato's present campaign. It began more than a decade ago precisely in Kosovo, when Milosevic manipulated Serb nationalism to climb to power in Belgrade and crush Kosovan autonomy. That initiated the break-up of Yugoslavia, for none of the other nationalities in it was willing to become subject to Greater Serbia.

Milosevic was unable to crush Slovenia because there was no Serb minority there whose fears he could manipulate and which he could use as a fifth column. The situation was different in Croatia, where there was a substantial Serb minority, comprising a majority in the Krajina region. After their rebellion there the Serb leadership had the Croats expelled en masse. This was when ethnic cleansing began: not as a matter of undisciplined atrocities or spontaneous anarchy but an organised instrument of state policy.

When, after the massacre in Srebrenica in 1995, it became clear that Milosevic could not control his own killing machine, the United States, unwilling to do the job itself, gave the green light to Croatia to reoccupy Krajina. The Serb leadership decamped in a matter of hours, long before the Croatian army could reach them, instructing their population to follow after them, which they in their overwhelming majority proceeded to do - remembering perhaps what they had done or had been done in their name to their former Croat neighbours.

Four years further on Milosevic still retains power by manipulating the assemblage of myths and fears, hopes and hatreds which makes up Serb nationalism, and ethnic cleansing remains his instrument of state policy. So long as this remains the case there will be no peace in that part of Europe, either for the Serbs or for their neighbours.

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