Serbia's Land Grab in Yugoslavia

Land Grab in Yugoslavia

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In his rare talks to the press, Milosevic recalls how the Nazi vassal Independent State of Croatia slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Serbs during World War II, and insists that Serbs are facing a similar threat today. Those memories are particularly painful in the Serb-dominated regions of Croatia where today's fighting goes on. But sometimes they are harnessed to chimeras. Says Serbian Vice President Budimir Kosutic, appointed by Milosevic just last month: "The Croatians and the Germans behind them want to make a new state in the old borders of Austria-Hungary."

The persistence of such fears even in the highest echelons of the Serbian government hardly bodes well for peace talks. Croatian President Tudjman, as strident a nationalist as Milosevic, has done little to allay them. Had Tudjman made even perfunctory mention of his republic's 600,000 Serbs -- some 12% of the population -- in the Croatian constitution adopted last December, perhaps the conflict would not have grown as violent as it has.

For his part, Milosevic claims merely to be toiling to preserve what he can of the old Yugoslavia. He can accept the departure of Slovenia, whose declaration of independence engendered a shorter military conflict early this summer; even Croatia can leave, yet only within reduced borders now being carved out by the Serb rebels. But on a continent with other untested borders, changing existing ones by force cannot be sanctioned. That is the nasty * precedent that the European Community, to the extent that it can control anything in a conflict fueled by apparently boundless ethnic hatred, is determined to prevent.

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