Letter: Bosnia's struggle for tolerance

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The Independent Online
Sir: No country now has a population homogeneous in race or religion, and few have one homogeneous in language. A state that founds its identity on the predominant religion, people, race or language stigmatises those belonging to minorities which do not adhere to that religion, speak that language or stem from that race or people as not full members of its citizenry. However sincerely it assures them of its toleration, they will be conscious of being on sufferance, exposed to the hatred of the more atavistic members of the majority and unable to identify themselves unambiguously with the state whose citizens they are.

The ideal of a modern state should therefore be the pluralist society: only by taking pride in its refusal to identify itself with this or that religion or ethnic group can it secure the whole-hearted loyalty of all its citizens and enable them all to feel a sense of belonging. This fact is recognised in many countries, including our own, but grudgingly; our politicians pronounce the ritual words 'Ours is a multi-racial society' reluctantly, rather than with pride.

The horrifying events in Bosnia- Herzegovina have brought before our eyes one state which feels that pride: which recognises pluralism, not as a regrettable necessity, but as an ideal worth dying for. While Serbia and Croatia have ravaged towns and cities in the service of ethnic purity, Bosnia has struggled to maintain the principle of a society embracing different faiths in harmony and mutual respect.

It has striven to do so, in the face not only of military defeat and the killing of its civilians, but of relentless pressure to accept the status of a purely Muslim enclave from the negotiators appointed by the West. The heroism with which Bosnia has defended the only acceptable ideal for modern states should compel our admiration, yet our awareness of the complicity of Western governments, our own above all, in blocking every means of rescuing Bosnia from destruction inhibits all emotions but pity.

It is not even yet too late to demand of our government and those of other Western nations that they desist from the crime they have colluded in committing. The work of Geneva must be undone if the West is not to be shamed by its share in extinguishing an ideal to which we owe our loyalty, and a people we have betrayed.

If Bosnia is not to be restored in its integrity, it must at least be accorded a territory commensurate not merely with the size of the Muslim and Jewish population, but of that together with all Serbs and Croats who reject the idol of ethnic purity and wish to go on living in a plural society: a territory large enough to preserve a viable continuation of the tolerant Bosnian state, not the derisory fragment envisaged by Lord Owen.

The UN must extend genuine protection to the cities it has declared to be under its protection, and the rebel Serb and Croat forces, with the states whose clients they are, must be made to understand our determination speedily to end the fighting, not on their terms but by a settlement with some colour of justice. It would not be hard to do if we had the will; if we do not do it, we shall live with a shame we can never expunge and probably with guilt for further terrible consequences.

Yours sincerely,



16 December