The Washington Post
August 11, 1995
. . . ETHNIC CLEANSING THAT'S CONVENIENT
This week in four days [in August 1995] of blitzkrieg by the Croatian army, 150,000 Serbs living in the Krajina region of Croatia were ethnically cleansed, sent running for their lives to Bosnia and Serbia.
In the face of what U.N. observers in Croatia call the largest instance of ethnic cleansing in the entire Balkan wars, where were the moralists who for years have been so loudly decrying the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia's Muslims? Where were the cries for blood, the demand for arms, the call to action on behalf of today's pitiful victims? Where were the columnists, the senators, the other posturers who excoriate the West for standing by when Bosnian Muslims are victimized and are silent when the victim of the day is Serb?
On vacation, I suppose. The plight of the Krajina Serbs will be addressed just as soon as they return from the Hamptons.
Meanwhile 150,000 people are expelled from their homes. Why no anguish over the fall of Krajina, a region the Serbs have inhabited for 500 years, longer than we have inhabited North America? The reason for the deathly silence is the unspoken feeling that, well, the Serbs had it coming: Look at what the Serbs have done to the Muslims in Bosnia. What goes around comes around.
The Serbs? Which Serbs? Most Krajina Serbs had nothing to do with the war in Bosnia, let alone with the atrocities committed there by other Serbs. How, in particular, are the women and children and old people of Krajina -- now terrorized, displaced and universally unlamented -- responsible for the suffering of Sarajevo?
And what was the great crime of the menfolk, for which expulsion is now tacitly considered fit punishment? Yes, they did form a breakaway state within Croatia. Yes, when Croatia itself broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, they did precipitate a war of independence within Croatia.
But they went to war for good reason. They did not want to live under a people that had massacred their parents. The Croatian state they rebelled against had, from its inception in 1991, adopted many of the symbols -- the coat of arms, the kuma (the Croatian currency) -- and much of the authoritarianism of the first Croatian state, the notorious Nazi puppet state of World War II, a genocidal state with Nuremberg Laws, concentration camps and a monstrous record of ethnic extermination that included the murder of hundreds of thousands of Serbs. (Present-day Bosnia, by the way, was part of that Nazi puppet state, which helps explain why Bosnia's Serbs have demanded independence too.)
The Serbs of Krajina had every reason to fear falling under Croatian sovereignty again. And this week, of course, their fears were borne out. The Croats shelled Serb villages and towns before advancing their armies, thereby terrorizing the population to flight. And once they fled, report U.N. observers in Croatia, refugees were indiscriminately shot at.
Where are the protests? Not only are there no protests, but the government of the United States (and Germany, Croatia's one-time patron) has quietly applauded the Croatian blitzkrieg.
The reason is a simple Realpolitik. This atrocity is a convenient one. It fixes the map. It solves Croatia's Serb problem. It neatly cleanses the Croatian state. It removes an ethnic pocket trapped by history and Tito's maliciously drawn (now internationally recognized) Yugoslav borders. This ethnic cleansing, President Clinton and his aides have indicated quite candidly, might make a Balkan settlement more possible.
Well then. It seems we have a new moral calculus for former Yugoslavia: Ethnic cleansing will be tolerated if it might help end the war. This is the logic: (1) The paramount moral imperative in former Yugoslavia is to end the fighting. (2) Given the history of these three peoples -- Serb, Croat and Muslim -- the only way to end it is by grouping ethnic populations within contiguous lines. (3) We don't care which lines so long as they separate the groups within reasonably defensible territory. And (4) if people -- 150,000 Krajina Serbs, for example -- need to be ethnically cleansed, so be it.
The Bosnia moralists -- those who denounce our refusal to help Bosnia's Muslims -- have long objected to such cold and cynical logic. Given their hypocrisy regarding the Krajina Serbs, however, it is hard to see how they can maintain their objection. There is either one moral standard regarding ethnic cleansing or none. There cannot be two.
Perhaps shame over the fate of the Krajina Serbs will now inject a note of realism into the overheated American debate about Bosnia. Perhaps it will put an end to the moral preening of those, who, in order to encourage American intervention, have played on Muslim victimhood exclusively, grotesquely invoking the Holocaust to create a morality play in which the Serbs are the Nazis and the Muslims are the Jews.
There are are many sides to the conflict in former Yugoslavia, and, both past and present, more than one victim.
Charles Krauthammer wrote a weekly political column that ran on Fridays. He died on June 21, 2018.
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