Ethnic Power Politics Take Hold in Bosnia

Yugoslav youth find their world is growing smaller and more dangerous - a letter from Sarajevo

VELIBOR OSTOJIC, Bosnian minister of information, is a man who likes maps. In a time of ethnic crisis in Sarajevo, when his Serbian party is pushing to divide Bosnia into nine separate and probably hostile regions, maps help Mr. Ostojic make sense of the tumult.In his elegant office last week, Ostojic unfolded several maps with officious crispness. One "official" ethnic map of Bosnia later proved to be produced by the Serbian political party here. Serbs would live in the large blue areas on the map; Muslims in the green areas; Croats in the small yellow regions. "Ethnic criteria are the most important for Bosnia," Ostojic said. "To keep the peace, we must draw precise boundaries." It all seemed very clear to Ostojic, an affable man. But politics in Sarajevo in 1991 are not that clear. One reporter leaving the briefing saw parallels to Berlin in 1938: maps drawn and redrawn, history lessons on race, talking peace while the federal Army threatens war. In fact, the word "fascist" is being used with increasing regularity by moderate and liberal Bosnians, especially youths, who feel their world growing smaller and more terrifying. The rest of Europe may be thinking about a new world order in the 1990s. But a new order here amounts to ethnic power politics. From Sarajevo, the West seems far away, with less understanding of the complexities of the Balkans: constant propaganda designed to split peoples and families along ethnic lines; a crushing of the federal idea of Yugoslavia; and a rise of extremism among Croats and Serbs, and now possibly within the 44 percent of the Bosnian population who are Muslims. Bosnians who do not want to play ethnic politics are facing the ugliest times in recent memory. They are under extreme pressure to "act ethnic," to be "good Serbs" or "good Croats." Most of the younger generation ignore politics, while those who follow it most closely want to leave Yugoslavia. For all its problems, the idea of a federal Yugoslavia seems both crucial and remote. Gordana Knezevic, domestic affairs editor for Sarajevo's independent daily Oslobodenje, and a Serb, says fellow Serbs accuse her of betraying her people by supporting an integrated, federal Yugoslavia. Croat friends have become suspicious of her. "I'm the kind of person that gets shot first," she says. "What am I supposed to do? I only feel Yugoslav. I'm in my 40s. I can't become a 'good Serb' overnight." Matters are especially tough for 23-year-old Zdelko, a Serbian graduate student and part-time radio announcer. His best friend is a Croat. His girlfriend is a Muslim whose parents put her on the first plane to Vienna when the shooting started between Serbs and Croats in neighboring Croatia. Zdelko has a "brotherly feeling" about his Croat friend in Zagreb. The two met in the Yugoslav Army. They stay in close touch. Zdelko doesn't know how future generations of Croats and Serbs will find a similar "brotherly feeling," since the federal institutions that brought them together are being scrapped. The vast majority of Bosnia's youth are "in a strange state of apathy," says Zdelko. Government manipulation, propaganda, and historical hatred loom so large they feel helpless. Most of Zdelko's friends "have only one aim in mind: Go west." It was a comment heard throughout Sarajevo. Most young people already have their escape routes planned. Moderates feel Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who pushes for a "Greater Serbia," is counting on inattention from the West. The Balkans have little strategic importance today. The recent UN arms embargo won't hurt Serbia, which exports weapons. If the West does take an interest, says one Bosnian Serb, Mr. Milosevic will bend just enough to take the spotlight off. But in the final analysis, Milosevic is the grand map maker.

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