Letter: Western dishonesty fuels the Balkan conflict

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The Independent Online
Sir: Two years ago, almost to the day, the Croatian government ordered an attack on Yugoslavian army units to provoke a conflict and thus present themselves as victims of aggression. The West accepted these lies as fact.

The local population of Serbs made it clear that they did not want to live in the independent state of Croatia as second-class citizens under a hostile government. In accordance with the principle of self-determination, they fought for their fragile freedom, and Serbia helped them by arming and advising them. This action has never been prohibited by international law. Are the American senators and the new President war criminals when they call for helping the Muslim side in the Bosnian conflict?

The West, surprised by the 'new' type of nationalistic war, opted to react as if this were an expansionistic, conquering type of war. To fit the nationalistic passions into that framework, Western diplomats needed an aggressor. Serbia was the obvious choice, as the Croatian and Bosnian Serbs were militarily more successful than the Croats and Muslims. The rest was a public relations exercise. War atrocities were associated with one side only, exaggerated to an extreme, ignoring the fact that atrocities are the consequences, not the cause, of war.

Sanctions were imposed. They have done their job: the Serbian economy practically does not exist. People are not starving yet, but poverty is on every corner and black marketeers and criminals are in charge of every aspect of life. Although sanctions were sold to the Western electorate as a step towards peace, this is what they could not achieve. Peace in the Balkans is as far away as ever.

Western allies are all too quick to threaten Serbs with military intervention. In order to realise this kind of action, Serbs would have to be bombed out of their own homes. This kind of intervention does not seem to worry anyone.

The fact that Croatia is attacking its own citizens because they are Serbs, using heavy artillery and the air force, does not seem to try the patience of the West. When Saddam Hussein tried much the same tactic in his southern territories, he soon had bombers flying over Baghdad.

The futile invention of a no-fly zone over Bosnia was designed 'to show those nasty Serbs that we mean business'. The idea of reinforcing it was abandoned because the breaches were committed mainly by the Croatian air forces. However, nobody questioned Croatia's supply of weaponry, despite the United Nations resolution banning the trading of all arms on the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

The West still has a chance to do what is now two years and millions of human tragedies overdue: to label the real problems with real names. Then, at last, peace can be achieved.



Belgrade, Yugoslavia

26 January

The writer is an historian.