False polarities in Bosnia

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From Mr M. Hughes

Sir: Bernard-Henri Levy ("The spirit of Europe lives or dies in Sarajevo", 31 July) argues, or at least insists, that the Bosnian government stands for the enlightened principle that

You can be a Serb, a Croat, a Jew or a Muslim ... and yet belong ... to a successful community.

The rebel Bosnian Serbs are "fascists" who reject that principle. This claim must be false.

Bosnia surely demanded independence because it believed that Yugoslavia was too much dominated by Serbs. This demand, though maybe made with excellent reason, simply cannot have rested on the principle that it doesn't matter whether one is a Serb, a Croat or a Muslim. It must have rested on an exactly contradictory principle, that the non-Serbs needed a place of their own where they could assert their non-Serb identity.

In these circumstances, the rebel Serbs were neither wicked nor fascist in wishing to maintain their Serb identity, within territory where they were the majority, by seceding from Bosnia just as Bosnia seceded from Yugoslavia. That does not for one minute excuse their excesses, their expansionism or their terrorism; but I do not think that an unrelenting refusal to see any rhyme or reason in their cause helps to bring peace.

Nor can we expect in the long run to pacify Eastern Europe by proclaiming, as Levy seems to do, the absolute moral and military supremacy of Western Europe in East European affairs. If there is ever to be a concert of Europe, it will have to take Russian and Orthodox opinion into account; and we would make a bad beginning of taking that opinion into account if we denounce as fascist the rebel Bosnian Serb claim to self-determination.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Hughes


1 August