Serbia's Crossroads

While it's easy to see the effects of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's disastrous policies on neighboring ethnic groups, little attention is given to the damage done to the interests of the Serbs he purportedly serves.

Rather than benefits, Mr. Milosevic's "greater Serbia" nationalism has brought the Serbs nothing but grief. This is currently seen in the Kosovo crisis, where Milosevic's determination not to allow an internationally monitored peace has brought his country to the verge of enduring NATO bombs. But the prelude to Kosovo was long and sad. Consider:

*In best Balkan fashion, Milosevic has convinced Serbs that economic success is a zero-sum game and that they can only gain at the expense of others. He precipitated the breakup of Yugoslavia's federation, destroying at the least a common market that would have boosted everyone's prosperity.

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*He backed Croatian Serbs in a disastrous civil war that ended with their almost total expulsion from lands they had occupied for centuries.

*He encouraged Bosnia's Serbs to undertake a genocidal civil war that undermined any legitimate political demands they may have and set them back decades economically.

In Kosovo, he stripped Serbia's Albanian population of its civil rights and then reacted with warfare when his actions eventually radicalized them. Not only the well-being of Kosovo's small Serbian population is threatened, but with it Serbia's rule over what most Serbs consider their cultural heartland.

The result of this behavior: Instead of living in a "greater Serbia," Serbs increasingly find themselves jammed into a rump federation subject to international sanctions and from which even Montenegro may soon withdraw. The Serbs' situation will improve only as they realize they've been sold a costly bill of goods and choose the path of peace and cooperation with their ethnic neighbors.

The same is true in varying degrees for all sides in the Balkans. Milosevic's has hardly been the only voice of destructive ethnic nationalism in the region. But he, sadly, set the tone.

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