LETTER: Political causes of Balkan hatreds

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From Mr Matthew Smith

Sir: Alasdair MacDonald (Letters, 10 August) argues that Tito camouflaged "deep-seated" hatreds in the former Yugoslavia. While there has been some hostility between ethnic groups for centuries, the region has been largely peaceful since 1878, with the exceptions, of course, of the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and the two world wars, when violence was stoked by actors outside the region.

Those hatreds that exist today have been created by SlobodanMilosevic and his opposite number in Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, in order to gain and maintain power. It is inaccurate to contend that Tito kept a lid on hatreds;they were not there in most people's minds until politicians, particularly Milosevic, skilfully put them there.

Mr MacDonald claims that "experience of the Second World War, despite the intervening years, remains fresh in the memory of the people of the region". That war finished some 50 years ago, during which time two generations have grown up; therefore, most people have no such memory. Much Serb propaganda has been based upon the Battle of Kosovo of 1389 and it is this that is on the minds, despite the intervening years, of many Croat- and Bosnian- hating Serbs.

As for partition, one wonders how this would affect the thousands of people in, and products of, mixed marriages in the region. In Bosnia, since 1945, around a quarter of marriages have been mixed. Partition is, effectively, a more equitable apartheid; and there is no reason that, in a region witness to centuries of mostly ethnic and national tolerance, it would not create more problems than it would solve.

Yours faithfully,

Matthew Smith

Norwich, Norfolk

10 August

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