Balkan reality

September 1, 1995

Will Podmore's letter "Let the Yugoslavs fight their civil war" (THES, August 25) repeated common myths and failed to describe the reality of the conflict in the Balkans. He asked important questions like "how did Yugoslavia come to be broken up?" but offered a skewed analysis of historical events in his efforts to justify non-intervention in Bosnia. In his effort to make the case that the conflict in Bosnia is a "civil war", Podmore omits the Serb-led invasions into Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina which destabilised and ultimately destroyed Yugoslavia.

The Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic actually fought very hard to keep Yugoslavia united as a loose federation.

Podmore's argument that "the Croat and Bosnian Muslims and their foreign sponsors violated Yugoslavia's independence by breaking it up" is not only politically motivated, it is also historically inaccurate. Before the international community recognized Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Serb-led Yugoslav National Army had already bombed the Adriatic port of Dubrovnik and levelled the Austro-Hungarian city of Vukovar. The 1974 Yugoslav constitution, which Podmore seems to recognise, had been repeatedly violated by Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, years before the conflict began. In 1989 Milosevic disregarded Yugoslavia's internal borders and absorbed the autonomous regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina into Serbia. This launched the programme for a greater Serbia based on the concept of ethnic purity. Since 1991, the international community has identified Serbia (and its surrogates in occupied Bosnia) as the main aggressor in the Balkans. Evidence of concentration camps, systematic mass rapes, forced impregnation, torture and mass killings is well documented.

Mr Podmore does not seem to understand that the struggle in Bosnia is between those calling for the restoration of a multiethnic country and forces advocating the creation of an ethnically pure Serbian state. If, as he believes, the war can best be settled by the people who live in Bosnia, then why is he so reluctant to let the Bosnians defend themselves against further acts of genocide?

The struggle against ethnic purity and fascism is our war too. That is why we should let the Bosnians fight their own war by providing them with arms. That is all they have asked for.


School of Education, Stanford University

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