Echoes of the 1930s Ring Loud in Bosnia

TO many people alive and politically aware during the 1930s, what is now being planned for Bosnia-Herzegovina in the name of peace holds frightening parallels to the appeasement of dictators in the years before World War II.

This d vu also applies to the failure of today's international and regional institutions, which were created to protect peace and uphold guarantees against aggression.

The United Nations, NATO, the European Community, and its foremost members - such as Britain and France - have all proved as pusillanimous in face of warlords as was the League of Nations, founded with similar noble objectives after World War I.

Manchuria (invaded by Japan in 1937), Ethiopia (invaded by Italy in 1935), Spain, Austria, and the former Czechoslovakia were all victims of the League's indifference to honoring firmly the principles the League was formed to defend.

In the case of Ethiopia, the League even rejected the option of declaring nonrecognition of Italy's military conquest, which, as Italian records later confirmed, would have deterred dictator Benito Mussolini. That inaction has a familiar ring today, as do Bosnian appeals to lift a Western arms embargo and reduce Serbia's massive weapons superiority.

``Nonintervention'' was the name for an Anglo-French embargo against Republican Spain. ``At least let us acquire arms to defend ourselves,'' Foreign Minister Julio Alvarez del Vayo begged the League in 1938. This appeal fell on deaf ears.

Fifty-five years later, Alija Izetbegovic eloquently urged the UN Security Council on Sept. 8: ``Defend us or let us defend ourselves!'' His plea also met a cool response.

In 1939, Czechoslovakia was sacrificed in a direct Anglo-French appeasement deal with Adolf Hitler in Munich. With one difference of detail, the Munich deal shares many parallels with the ``peace'' now offered Bosnia.

Unlike today's Bosnians, the Czechs had neither part nor voice at the appeasement talks in Munich. Two Prague diplomats were on hand but were confined to their hotel, totally ignorant of how Hitler and the appeasers were redrawing their country's map. Once the deed was done, a British official ``briefed'' the hapless Czechs, brusquely commanding them to inform Prague and instruct their government that acceptance was expected without delay.

The Bosnians, at least, are party to the numerous ``peace'' talks, but are increasingly at a disadvantage.

Early on, the belligerent Serbs - authors of aggression and ``ethnic cleansing'' - were accorded the same footing as the leaders of a sovereign state, even though their plans for a ``Greater Serbia'' were long apparent. Increasingly, international mediators - above all, Lord David Owen of the EC - have leaned toward the Serbs with Muslim interests relegated to second place.

It is now, in fact, no more a case of aggression, but an issue of ``three warring factions,'' as though one is not still, in fact, the aggressor, a second its accomplice, and the third their victim.

The Munich agreement contained ``international guarantees'' for the protection of a truncated Czechoslovakia. Six months later, Hitler was in Prague.

Similarly, international guarantees for a pocket-sized Muslim Bosnia appear in the latest Geneva draft, which would divide the former Yugoslav republic into three ethnic ministates. But can anyone believe it will mean more than Hitler's dishonored pledge? The draft pays lip service to reversal of ``ethnic cleansing.'' Can anyone see that happening?

After World War II, American journalist Helen Kirkpatrick wrote a book, ``The Terrible Peace,'' about Munich. This Geneva draft must qualify for the same title. It will certainly contain similar seeds for future conflict.

Other Balkan leaders insist that leaving Serbia with lands taken by force - and, consequently, a weak, unstable Bosnia - cannot possibly last. Foremost in their minds is the possible spread of Serbia's ambition against themselves.

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