Conquest is national crusade for Belgrade

LAST MONDAY, the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, made an astounding statement. After meeting Thierry Germond, the deputy chairman of the International Committee of the Red Cross, he denounced Nato's enforcement of a no-fly zone over Bosnia, and added: 'I drew Mr Germond's attention to the fact that we have received reports that these aircraft are manned by Croatian, Slovene, Albanian and Macedonian officers who have been trained in Nato bases over the past two years.'

It is hard to judge whether General Mladic believes such tales, or whether he knows they are untrue. But one thing is clear. Such allegations are faithfully reported on Serbian television and radio, and do much to explain the siege mentality that grips Serbs, whether they live in Serbia, Bosnia or Croatia.

For five years, Serbian authorities have encouraged the media to whip up fears that Serbs are under threat from all directions - 'fascist Croats' backed by Germany, Austria and the Vatican, 'Hungarian fifth columnists' in the Serbian province of Vojvodina, 'Albanian terrorists' in Ko sovo, and 'Muslim fundamentalists' in Bosnia backed by an international Islamic conspiracy. In this view, the Serbs' only friends are Christian Orthodox Russia and Greece.

As a result, the Serbs have embarked on a crusade seen by most as a campaign of conquest, but which the Serbs themselves see as a struggle in defence of their national identity. Many Serbian leaders are inspired by a vision of the unification of all Serb- populated lands in the Balkans into one state. They do not regard this as expansion, but as an essential step to prevent discrimination against Serb minorities in Croatia, Bosnia and

Kosovo.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, made this point last Sunday when he explained why he had not accepted the Vance-Owen peace plan, which would divide Bosnia into 10 autonomous provinces, largely on ethnic lines. 'We do not demand all 60 per cent of our territory. We are not concerned about the quantity of the territory, but rather the quality and integrity of it, bearing in mind that we live in a hostile environment,' he said.

The weakness of the Serbs' case is that, while voicing fears over the status of Serbian minorities, they have shown scant regard for the rights of Croats, Muslims, Hungarians and Albanians. In Croatia and Bosnia, Serbian forces have systematically expelled non-Serbs from their native areas to create a single stretch of Serbian-controlled land. This runs from Serb-occupied Croatia near the Adriatic coast, across northern and eastern Bosnia, to Serbia and Montenegro.

President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, anxious to avoid more Western sanctions and even military strikes against his republic, has resisted pressure to announce the formation of a Greater Serbian state. But Serbian leaders in Bosnia and Croatia are impatient. They want an emergency pan-Serb assembly that, as a first step, would unite Serb-held lands outside Serbia and Montenegro.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Magento Front End Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Investigo: management accountant

£250 - £300 per day: Investigo: Growing international marketing business requi...

Recruitment Genius: ORM / Online Reputational Consultant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ORM Consultant is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of educat...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore