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The Last Days of Yugoslavia

November 24, 1991|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | Carol J. Williams is The Times' Vienna bureau chief. She has been covering the war in Yugoslavia since it began.

"The EC has been giving arms and aid and money to Croatia instead of punishing it," says Pujic, who claims another world war is looming unless the West wakes up and cuts off the latest German power grab. Then, getting back to his main point, to the one thing the Serbs really want, the general says peace cannot be achieved amid territorial injustice. "New borders should be drawn. History knows of such cases," Pujic insists. "You draw new borders, then allow some time for the populations (of ethnic minorities) to move."

INEZ TASIC KNEW EVEN A FEW MONTHS AGO THAT THE GAS LINES in Bosnia-Herzegovina would grow longer if the war in Croatia raged on. Still, with a job to get to and an old car too sick to depend on, the government aide in the republic capital of Sarajevo borrowed money from her parents, bought a new Volkswagen and hoped for the best. The gas lines in Sarajevo now stretch for miles. But Tasic needs gas less often now. As the federation disappeared, so did Bosnia-Herzegovina's subsidies. The republic is virtually broke, and government workers have been temporarily laid off.

Tasic, in her mid-30s, with ebony hair and eyes that speak of deep Balkan roots, has more than gas lines and professional paralysis on her mind. If new borders are drawn as Serbia has ordered, Tasic, who has a Croatian mother and a Muslim father, has no idea which side she should step to.

"What am I supposed to do? Cut myself in half?" she asks, shaking her head in disgust. "We're too mixed up. It's impossible. Some of us are truly Yugoslavs."

No one expects any winners in the current fighting. But the roughly 8% of Yugoslavia's 24 million people who describe themselves as Yugoslavs will definitely be among the losers. With the political demise of the federation, those of mixed nationality have become minorities or stateless persons.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is the hard knot of Yugoslavia's dilemma over how to break up. Parts of the mountainous republic were once ruled by Ottoman Turkey, others by Hapsburg Austria, and some regions by both great powers at different times. Successive waves of religious tolerance and repression over the centuries chased out one ethnic group while giving refuge to another, each migration leaving behind stubborn traces, some people uniting in ethnic enclaves, others assimilating.

Today, Bosnia-Herzegovina is 44% Muslim, 31% Serbian, 18% Croatian and thoroughly blended. Geography joins history in stacking the deck against the republic's survival; Bosnia-Herzegovina lies between the republic of Serbia and the Serbian-inhabited swathes of Croatia the army has seized. The Muslims and Croats in the republic joined forces in October to declare Bosnia-Herzegovina independent. But the Serbs have threatened rebellion if the republic is actually severed from Serbia.

Most troubling, in the view of the Muslims, is the absence of any consideration of their status as the sole ethnic group without a home republic. Radovan Karadzic, a bushy-haired psychiatrist and fiery leader of the Bosnian Serbs, employing his own complex formula of ethnic arithmetic and social justice, contends that two-thirds of Bosnia-Herzegovina belongs to the Serbs. That land should be kept together with Serbia, Montenegro and Serbian regions of Croatia in a new mini-Yugoslavia, he says. The other third of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is predominantly Croatian, would then be free to join what remains of Croatia. The Muslims would be allowed to stay on as a minority in either republic, Karadzic magnanimously suggests, but would not be granted their own territory, so as to prevent Islamic fundamentalism from gaining a foothold in Europe.

Carving up the republic without providing for the Muslims promises a repeat of the region's violent history. If fighting over the republic's future escalates from a battle of words to one of weapons, many fear the conflict among Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic groups will be so savage that it will make the war in Croatia look like a minor skirmish. They point to the historic intensity of Serbian nationalism in their republic. The fanatic 19-year-old Serbian schoolboy who assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 is still revered by Serbs for bringing death to an alliance with a hated foreign power.

"Most people in the West know of Sarajevo only from two events. One was the Olympics in 1984," says the republic's Muslim foreign minister, Haris Silajdzic. "The other was the assassination of the Austrian archduke that began World War I. Now I fear we are destined for a third moment in history's spotlight."

WHILE THE CAPITAL OF SERBIA PRACTICES DELUSIONARY PEACE and Bosnia-Herzegovina awaits a cataclysm, Croatia is already engulfed in war. Since declaring independence, the republic has lost one-third of its territory, and 2,500 Croats have died in the fighting.

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