THE rising flames of ethnic violence in the Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be put out sooner rather than later by the European Community's decision this week to recognize Bosnia.
But the EC decision to put off recognition of the other "stranded" Yugoslav republic, Macedonia, which declared independence from Belgrade seven months ago and is currently in diplomatic and economic limbo, is weak-kneed and inexcusable.
The White House this week announced its recognition of Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia. The US position on the bloody 10-month breakup of Yugoslavia all along has been to let Europe take the lead, and to lag behind as honest broker and emphasizer of human rights. Yet in this latter role, the US must begin to raise the issue about Macedonia and, if the EC does not move quickly on it, to take a lead and quietly recognize Macedonia's sovereignty.
Yugoslavia is still fragile, and still a mess. Despite the ongoing deployment of 14,000 United Nations peacekeeping troops in Croatia, cease-fire violations between Serbs and Croats are rising to between 100 to 200 a day. Nationalist extremists on both sides have a stake in keeping hate alive. UN forces may be targets in which Serbs will blame Croats for killings, and vice versa.
The Yugoslav crisis is no immediate strategic threat to the West. But it is important for several reasons: It is the first hot war in post-cold-war Europe; it is a reminder to modern Europe of the excesses of ancient blood feuds. Moreover, how the West deals with Yugoslavia sets precedents for the way politics is played in the post-cold-war world. Can a "new Europe" begin to replace the old power politics and spheres of influence of the past?
So far the jury is out. In December, Germany bulldozed the EC into recognizing Slovenia and Croatia - which the EC did in January. Public opinion in Germany was pro-Croat, and recognition by the world alienated Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav Army generals.
Events may prove Germany right. But, its professed standards to the contrary notwithstanding, Germany recognized a republic, Croatia, that has unstable borders, an ongoing war, and was committing human rights atrocities. Germany's move also inflamed the Muslim-majority ethnic tinderbox of Bosnia by forcing it to ask for recognition - or be part of a rump "Serboslavia." Only last spring, Croat President Franjo Tudjman and Serbia's Milosevic secretly agreed to carve up Bosnia. Today, Milosevic and Tudjman are still carrying out destabilizing policies in Bosnia - which is why EC and US recognition was needed by Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic.
The worst inconsistency is EC policy toward Macedonia. The EC's own recognition commission gave Macedonia higher ratings than Croatia. Yet because Greece argues that the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim, the EC is balking. The issue seems absurd, and is - but it has been demagogued in Greece.
Macedonia has taken all steps to achieve recognition. It will renounce territorial aims in its constitution, and is offering the same in a treaty with Greece. (Greece has as much to fear from tiny Macedonia as the US does from Puerto Rico). Macedonia can call itself what it likes. US recognition will help end this farce.