There is a possibility of war in the Balkans. The Serbs, the dominant ethnic group in Yugoslavia, are repressing another ethnic group seeking independence. America and Western Europe are looked at for guidance in containing the bloodshed and finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Sound familiar? It describes the deteriorating political situation just before the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia eventually won their independence, but only after four years of bloody combat with the Serb dominated Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, however, it also describes the situation in Yugoslavia last Monday.
After the secessions in 1991, Serbia and Montenegro were the only two remaining republics in Yugoslavia. At the same time, within Serbia, a southern region lost its limited independence. This region, Kosovo, has a 90 percent ethnic Albanian population, and is seeking to have its autonomous status reconfirmed. Kosovo's dominant political party went so far as to declare its independence from Yugoslavia.
Confronted again with possible disintegration earlier this week, Yugoslavia sent troops backed up by helicopter gunships into the region to stop a peaceful protest in Pristina, Kosovo's capital. Fifty-thousand people had gathered peacefully in the streets to protest for greater recognition from Belgrade. Yet in what was described by the American envoy as a "brutal, disproportionate and overwhelming" use of force, the Serbians broke up the protest, killing 80 in this and associated violence.
The Yugoslavian government states that only "separatist guerrillas" were targeted in this "police" action, yet the eight women and 11 children killed suggest otherwise. There have also been reports in the countryside that entire villages are being leveled by the helicopters in order to quash "separatist guerrillas."
Unlike in 1991, American and Western European reaction has been swift if somewhat limited. The U.S., Britain, Germany, France and Italy have halted government credit to Belgrade, threatened to freeze overseas Yugoslavian assets if violence continues, demanded that Belgrade allow the U.N. Commissioner on Human Rights to investigate and asked a former Spanish prime minister to mediate. They also urged The Hague's International War Crimes Tribunal to prosecute any war crimes. But our job is far from done.
America and Western Europe must not allow the situation to deteriorate any further. It would be short sighted not to recognize the potential of this conflict to spread. Neighboring Albania has itself destabilized over recent months, and the 1.8 million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo won't likely be abandoned in an all out war. Thus the possible scope of a war is now even greater than it was in Bosnia. It is incumbent on the western powers to intercede on behalf of the Albanians in Kosovo to prevent Albania from doing so. We need to scrutinize closely the Yugoslavian maneuvers, both political and military, in the days and weeks to come and respond accordingly.