Letter: Serbia's unjustified claim to Eastern Slavonia

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From Mr N. D. Jesenski

Sir: In your otherwise commendable coverage of the events in Croatia in the past few days one finds occasional inaccuracy that needs correcting. One such example is Christopher Bellamy's attempt to justify Serbia's claims as regards Eastern Slavonia ("Tudjman weighs risk of wider war", 9 August) which is, as he puts it, "of great potential strategic importance to Serbia because control of it means commanding both banks of the Danube".

He also says that "Croatian claim to the area is recent and may be negotiable". Serbia's claim on Eastern Slavonia can be justified neither on ethnic, nor on historical grounds. Before it was ethnically cleansed by the Serbs in the 1991 war, the area was divided into nine municipalities. In eight of these municipalities Croats formed the majority. In the ninth (Beli Manastir) Croats formed the minority (35 per cent), but the Serbs formed an even smaller minority (24 per cent). In the whole of Eastern Slavonia Croats were the predominant ethnic community (66 per cent), Serbs made 14.4 per cent and others (mainly Hungarians) made 19.6 per cent.

Serbia's claim to Eastern Slavonia and Baranja cannot be justified on historical grounds either, because this region has never been part of the Serbian state. Furthermore, geographically it is separated from Serbia by the river Danube and economically it forms a unity with the rest of Slavonia.

All of this, contrary to wild speculations in the West, does not necessarily mean that Croatia will go to war over Eastern Slavonia. I have no doubts that it will try to recover it through diplomatic means, using it as leverage to block lifting of the UN sanctions against Yugoslavia, until it recognises Croatia and its international borders.

However, in view of constant Serbian bombardment of Croatian cities in that area, like Osijek and Vinkovci, one should not exclude the possibility of Croatian military intervention in future, if diplomatic attempts to recover all of its territory fail.

Yours sincerely,

N. D. Jesenski

New Malden, Surrey