Letter: Mortal danger in the heart of Europe

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The Independent Online
From Mr Erik de Mauny

Sir: I am glad to note, from your correspondence columns, that I am not alone in feeling shame and outrage at what is happening in Bosnia; I have wept at seeing on television that forlorn procession of exhausted women and children, torn from their homes in Srebrenica, struggling to reach a temporary haven in Tuzla. But shame is by far the strongest emotion; shame at the spectacle of Western politicians, with a few honourable exceptions, doing all they can to avoid punishing the Bosnian Serbs for inflicting unspeakable suffering on their Muslim compatriots.

I served for most of the last war in the 2nd New Zealand Division. It was that division, advancing from the West into Trieste, that had the first full-scale encounter with Tito's partisans, as they entered the city from the East. The New Zealanders, being themselves tough and resourceful, recognised those same qualities in the Yugoslav partisans and viewed them with considerable respect.

I had an opportunity to get to know Yugoslavia at first hand when, in January 1958, I became a BBC foreign correspondent and was sent out to the post of Vienna, and the Balkans. But when I look at the scene today, everything has undergone a catastrophic change and is now practically unrecognisable. For where there was, in Bosnia, a model of a post-war community of different confessions, Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim, all living together in harmony, one now sees only hatred and devastation.

Various theories have been advanced to account for the motives of the present Bosnian Serb junta, and a deep-rooted self-pity certainly seems to be one of them. But I must avoid the inevitable temptation to blame the Serb people as a whole for what is happening. I have known too many Serbs whom I have respected and liked, and I can only think of them now as being equally victims of the present Bosnian Serb leadership, as it wades crazily and drunkenly through oceans of innocent blood in its efforts to create a new Greater Serbia.

What I find inexplicable is that the British government (although not, I am happy to say, the French) appears even now to be stubbornly clinging to the illusion that one can "negotiate" a political settlement with people like Radovan Karadzic, General Ratko Mladic, and the one who really started it all, Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade - in short, with people who, with matchless effrontery, have broken practically every undertaking they have entered into with the UN or with the European countries concerned.

When are our so-called statesmen going to recognise a mortal danger, here in the heart of Europe, staring them in the face? That danger is now widely recognised by ordinary citizens, especially of my generation, who remember all too clearly the events leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War. And when will those same leaders recognise the simple fact that nothing can stop the juggernaut of Bosnian Serb aggression except to meet and defeat it with superior military force?

Yours faithfully,

Eric de Mauny


19 July