THE emotional antiwar demonstrations in Belgrade yesterday bring Serbia full circle.
A year ago, 30,000 Serbs filled the streets of Belgrade on March 9 to protest the repressive policies of President Slobodan Milosevic. The Serbian leader answered with tanks in the streets that killed several protesters.
Next, Mr. Milosevic began a pro-Serb media campaign, using Serbian villagers in a newly nationalist Croatia as pawns.
The rest is history: Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia in June, and an ethnic war broke out with the federal Army taking Serbia's side - a war that seemed endless.
Yet on March 9 a year later, Croatia and Slovenia are free and recognized (with other republics to follow), some 14,000 UN peacekeepers are ready to fan out through Croatia, Yugoslavia is a Titoist memory, Milosevic is deep in the doghouse, and protesters are back on Belgrade's streets.
Despite Sunday's truce violation as Serbs shelled the Croat town of Osijek, both Serbs and Croats are tired of war. Since June, casualty figures have reached 10,000; displaced villagers number 400,000; enough hate has built up to last a generation.
A cold war will likely ensue. Serbia won't want to cede land in the north it fought hard to seize - though Serbs are a minority in the Slavonian villages.
So too, Zagreb will find it hard to cede land in Krajina - though Serbs are a majority there.
Milosevic is a genius at manipulation. But his days in power may be numbered. A duped population will slowly realize their leader promised the world, but delivered a bankrupt state. The war, the deaths, the refugees, the pain - what has it gotten Serbia? Nothing: economic chaos, a pariah reputation. There is no Greater Serbia. That was a delusion.
Nor are the Balkan delusions over with. Consider the crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Bosnia wants to be recognized as Croatia and Slovenia are. Yet many Serbs in this ethnic tinderbox (44 percent Muslim, 31 percent Serb, 19 percent Croat) want to form a rump Yugoslavia by joining with Belgrade.
The European Community (EC) did not want to recognize Bosnia until a referendum was held and all groups agreed to "cantonize" Bosnia along ethnic lines, which they did.
Last week the referendum was held. Of the 64.8 percent turnout, 99 percent wanted independence. The Serbian party in Bosnia, SDS, pressured Serbs to boycott (Serbs who voted were "traitors").
Matters are moving too fast for the land-hungry SDS, which wants agreed-to cantonal borders before Bosnia is recognized. Serbs are 30 percent of the population, but SDS outrageously claims 65 percent of Bosnia. Fiery SDS leader Radovan Karadzic says EC recognition will cause civil war. If so, it will be because Karadzic starts it. SDS put up barricades in Sarajevo last week. The party is demanding control of media and police.
The EC should recognize Bosnia soon. That will marginalize SDS. The federal Army must stay out of the fray, as it has so far.
What must be avoided is three ethnic parties battling it out. The EC canton proposal unwittingly encouraged this. Most needed are stronger cross-ethnic alliances.