The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 68.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Column misrepresented Yugoslavia, ignored important age-old disputes

I was very pleased to see Matthew H. Hersch 94's column in The Tech ["Confederacy is the answer," March 8]; seldom do Balkan issues receive the attention in the United States that they deserve. However, I must point out several inaccuracies and misconceptions which damage an otherwise noble effort.

First, the Yugoslav Republic comprises six republics and two autonomous regions. The republics are Serbia, the most powerful, made up of Serbs and a few Croats; Croatia, the second most important, including Croats and some Serbs; Bosnia-Hercegovina, with a mixed population of Serbs, Croats and Bosnians; Slovenia, whose population is Slovene (not "Slovian"); Macedonia, made up of Macedonians; and Montenegro (which Hersch neglected to mention), whose people are called Montenegrins.

The autonomous regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina have mixed populations. There are no "Kosovians" or "Vojvodinians." Rather, the former has a mixed Serbian and Albanian population, the latter a mixed Serbian and Hungarian one.

Hersch's assertions about Yugoslavia and its fate were overly simplistic and biased. He neglected to mention the significance of religious conflict, which runs parallel to and supports the nationalistic struggles which plague the country.

Slovenia and Croatia are largely Roman Catholic; Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia are mostly Orthodox. Bosnia-Hercegovina has a mix of Catholic Croatians, Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosnians (there are also plenty of Muslim Albanians in Kosovo, and many Catholic Hungarians in Vojvodina).

The brief modern history of Yugoslavia presented was in many cases incorrect. The behavior of Croatia under Fascist occupation is not the sole, or even a particularly large explanation for today's troubles.

Serbia and Croatia each had its fair share of collaborators and freedom fighters; and both groups were pretty brutal at times. The cause of the present commotion is the simple fact that the Serbian-dominated federal system has fallen apart since Tito's death over a decade ago.

No one else has been able to make the precarious balance of nationalities work, something which Tito, for all his many flaws, played like a virtuoso. Furthermore, the Serbian Communist-nationalist government of Slobodan Milosevic has been whipping up a xenophobic frenzy among Yugoslavia's Serbian population.

Through a tightly controlled government press, Milosevic has greatly exacerbated the tensions among the republics. This is what is to blame for the current high level of tension; the separatist actions of Croatia and Slovenia have in large part been responses to the misdeeds of the authoritarian Serbian government.

Therefore, Hersch's confederalist solution is terribly naive. A Yugoslav state is now anathema to most Slovenes and Croats, who are finding their own solutions for the future.

They seem willing to become what Hersch so disparagingly calls "midget-states" to escape the current inequitable system. Thus a confederal system will not work; it represents misinformed wishful thinking.

Croats and Slovenes want freedom from Belgrade's increasingly oppressive control, not "economic freedom and government non-intervention" -- the recent election of nationalist (not free-market libertarian) governments in the two dissident republics shows this only too well. They want government intervention, all right, but from their own bureaucracy, not Serbia's.

Contrary to Hersch's reasoning, ethnic disputes will not disappear with a confederal system, or any other. These disputes are rooted in centuries of history, and cannot be overcome by government action or better constitutional planning.

It is too late for wishful thinking about Yugoslavia; its time is passing, if not already past. The artificial state cobbled together from the ruins of the Hapsburg Empire over 70 years ago is coming to an end. One can only hope that it will happen peacefully.

Sandra E. Owen '91->