- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 6, 2002

There is in the Balkans an irregular fault line between Eastern and Western Christianity, and a second one between the two Christian camps and Islam. There has been far more peace than war along those lines over the past seven centuries, but on occasion the religious-historical-cultural plates shift violently, and all hell breaks loose.

Two such shifts occurred in the 20th century. The first came in 1941-1945. The second, which took thousands of lives and destroyed a nation, jolted Europe 50 years later.

Aftershocks from the 1990s upheaval continue, with the ex-president of Serbia on trial in The Hague for "crimes against humanity." In his "Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia" Louis Sell, a former State Department officer, equates that charge with murder; the victim was Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was the largest and most populous constituent republic. He finds Slobodan Milosevic, "more than any other single leader," responsible for the destruction of that country.

In his book, Mr. Sell provides a detailed account of events: The inexorable post-Tito acceleration of centrifugal forces; Mr. Milosevic's demagogic sparking of the tinderbox; the Vance-Owen plan; the Dayton accords; the NATO bombing of Bosnia; and later Serbia, the Rambouillet agreement, Kosovo.

Mr. Sell dismisses Mr. Milosevic as a "tin-pot Balkan dictator" who, outside his obsession with power, is "pretty much a cipher." At once a "malignant narcissistic personality" and a "master of betrayal," he poured weapons and munitions into the Serb enclaves in Bosnia and Croatia, only to leave the 200,000 Serbs in the Krajina region to the mercies of Franjo Tudjman's Croat army advised by high-ranking American mercenaries bent on expelling or exterminating them.

Mr. Milosevic urged sociopaths Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to undertake a ruthless grab for power and territory in Bosnia, then clutched desperately at the Dayton accords when the Bosnian Muslims, with the help of Arab and other mujahiadeen dear to Alija Izetbegovic's heart, fought back with fire of their own, and with NATO bombs.

Mr. Sell concludes that the Serb people, whose "national character" he holds in low esteem, collectively share Mr. Milosevic's guilt. He insists that the Serbs "initiated and practiced most extensively" the "ethnic cleansing that was carried out by all sides in the Bosnian conflict." Still, condemning only the "notorious Serb concentration camps" conveys the false impression that there were no others.

It is impossible to establish the locus of original sin in the Balkans or anywhere else, but any attempt to understand a people must take account of its collective memory. Acknowledging that the Serbs in Croatia "never fully recovered from the Ustashi [Croatian Nazi] massacres" of World War II, Mr. Sell leaves it at that. At their "Balkan Auschwitz" at Jasenovac, the Ustashi put to death more than 700,000 Serbs, Jews and Gypsies between 1941 and 1945.

The Tito regime's failure to de-Nazify Croatia, and the Bosnia-Herzegovina that supplied the German Skanderbeg Division with thousands of Muslim volunteers, would come back to torment Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) took shape, Mr. Sell writes, in reaction to "violent Serb repression." Although noting that the KLA assassinated aides of the Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova, he does not call it what it is, a terrorist organization. Nor does he report that it is involved in drug-trafficking and prostitution and is linked Jerry Seper revealed in The Washington Times early in 1999 to fanatical Muslim organizations. The KLA trained some of its fighters in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, the Sudan and Alija Izetbegovic's Bosnia.

The spectacle of Slobodan Milosevic standing at the bar of justice, and history, disturbs more than a few uncrowned heads of government, and his trial may well be the first and also last such event, at least for a generation or two. He is surely guilty of crimes against humanity, first and foremost against his own Serb people. The absence in The Hague of the late Franjo Tudjman, Alija Izetbegovic and others, does not vitiate the case against him.

There is no case against the Serbian people, however, or for that matter against the Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes, Albanian Kosovas, or any other people. At the root of the horrors lie ancient quarrels over religion, political stupidity, and modern expressions of nationalism that "patriotism gone feral," as Jan Morris writes in her recent book on Trieste. Our tears, and prayers, must be for Yugoslavia's dead, all of them.


Woodford McClellan, author of "Svetozar Markovic and the Origins of Balkan Socialism," is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia.

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