FIGHTING in old Yugoslavia persists. The West's resolve is stiffer, as seen in last week's Munich summit. But it is a mistake to regard the crisis as a simple ethnic conflict. To understand what happened in Yugoslavia, what is happening in Bosnia and Croatia - and what may happen in Kosovo, Sanjak, and Macedonia - one must understand the basic program of Slobodan Milosevic, president of Serbia, and Franjo Tudjman, president of Croatia.
As a former Yugoslav diplomat, a partisan soldier under Tito, and now a Yugoslav journalist, I have watched the political and intellectual dynamics that brought these two men to power.
* Mr. Milosevic, seeing he could not rule Yugoslavia, adopted a mandate to form a Greater Serbia. Milosevic must thus repress the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo (90 percent of the province's population) and carve out large chunks of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
* Mr. Tudjman's long-term mandate is to marginalize the Serbs of Croatia, have a chauvinist, Croat-dominated independent Croatia, and annex "Croat" parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The presence of a 30,000-man Croat army in Bosnia and the attempt of Bosnian Croats to seize territory there make this clear.
Unlike political programs in the West, the mandates claimed by Milosevic and Tudjman are not a quick response to a loss of identity after the death of Tito or the collapse of communism. These mandates and their formulation come from generations of bigoted and xenophobic ideologues and intellectuals who are joined to militant churches and power-mad communist leaders.
Amid post-communist euphoria and discussions of free elections and democracy, it was difficult to imagine that dark, atavistic mandates were present. Yet the forces and furies behind these mandates, which are seen as sacred missions, go far beyond the question of communism versus democracy. For them, "folk-rights," ethnic group interests, are always above "mere" human or individual rights. The rewritten Croat constitution of 1990, for example, described not a state for the people of Croatia - but a state
of Croatian people. Only later were minorities included.
Though these leaders aren't Hitlers, their little "Mein Kampfs" and a body of chauvinistic and racist speeches, articles, and books have been visible for all to see. But, as in the past, they were dismissed as paranoid rantings and imbecilities. Supportive Serb intellectuals, for example, say Serbs are the oldest people and Croats are really Iranians. Croat counterparts, who have a fondness for the dark side of Heidegger, say Croats are genetically superior to Serbs and argue elaborately as to why.
Such notions sound crazy, but they are quite relevant for dealing with and understanding what is happening daily in the Balkans.
THESE nationalistic mandates account for why neither Milosevic nor Tudjman have any minimum-goal programs. They only have maximum ones. They are not interested in compromises. They may obfuscate, temporize, or momentarily settle for less - e.g., sign a cease-fire agreement. But these are only breathers, feints, or tactical retreats grudgingly conceded under duress. Milosevic and Tudjman have every intention to resume their apocalyptic quests at the first opportunity.
The mandates are why so many "understandings" achieved by honest brokers, such as European Community (EC) negotiator Lord Carrington, unravel as soon as they are arrived at.
Hence, so long as Milosevic, Tudjman, and their nationalist forces are in power, there will be no stability in the Balkans.
Dealing with these aspects of the Yugoslav crisis isn't pleasant. But it can't be avoided. It should be countered by the international community in two ways:
* First, all the international influence, including direct intervention, necessary to turn back and defeat Serbia's aggression - the dynamo of the Balkan wars - should be employed. Now. Croatia's transgressions and depredations must also be reevaluated. The world owes Yugoslavs (Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Muslims, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Albanians) nothing. We cannot blame anyone else for our tragedy. We brought it on our own heads. But the question is: Do the US, Canada, and Europe owe something to the ir own peace, security, and conscience that makes it right to stop such carnage?
An American friend asked why Americans should risk their lives because crazy Yugoslavs are killing each other. My answer: Precisely for that reason - to stop a mass slaughter of the innocent. But not only Americans - all must help. And not only in Yugoslavia, but wherever international action is needed. This is what United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali recommends to the Security Council: stand-by forces of many countries for effective peace-enforcing - not just peacekeeping, but peac emaking.
For the first time, the community of nations has the means, principles, and precedents to intervene.
* Second, the people of former Yugoslavia should be given an inspiring and sobering new deal. It must contain both positive and negative inducements (from investment to war-crimes trials) to wean people away from pernicious nationalist programs. It is time for an authoritative statement of Western civil principles and interests that bear on the Yugoslav crisis. Some of these have been put forth already. But they are buried in government pronouncements, UN resolutions, and documents of the EC and the Conf erence on Security and Cooperation in Europe. They are incomplete, overlapping, and burdened with jargon. There is now a need for a ringing declaration that penetrates to the women and men in streets of every city and village of former Yugoslavia.