Peace in Serbia Will Depend On Anti-Nationalists

AS the Clinton administration contemplates bold measures in response to Serbian aggression in Bosnia, including the use of air strikes, it is giving insufficient attention to additional and far less risky options that are critical to establishing a stable peace there.

The administration is correct to support the efforts of the international community to isolate Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, as it did last week when it tightened the economic embargo against Belgrade (though it is wrong to exempt Croatia, which is also preying on Bosnia, from punishment). Mr. Milosevic's support of Bosnia's waring Serbs has allowed the carnage to continue virtually unchecked. Only if Milosevic is thoroughly discredited in the eyes of his own people - only if he is seen to be res ponsible for the fierce hardship Serbia can now expect to suffer - will it be possible to loose his hold on the public imagination.

But if sanctions (and possibly military action) should eventually succeed in undermining support for Milosevic, then what? The international community has done little to strengthen the anti-nationalist opposition in Serbia with whom resides the hope for a Serbia willing to live at peace with its neighbors and with its own mixed populations. And if the opposition languishes for want of support, there is no reason why a fallen Milosevic will not be replaced by an even more odiously nationalist demagogue.

President Clinton took a step in the right direction last week when he met with Vesna Pesic, a leading Serbian anti-war activist, who was in the United States to receive an award from the National Endowment for Democracy. Director of the Center for Anti-War Action in Belgrade and head of the opposition Civil Alliance of Serbia, Ms. Pesic is one of many tireless and courageous citizens struggling to keep alive the flame of tolerance and inclusive democracy in her native home.

In fact, throughout the former Yugoslavia, wherever chauvinist nationalism has reared its head, there are individuals like Pesic fighting against policies of national hatred and war - whether they are intellectuals seeking to dispel the myths that sustain the war, journalists challenging the official accounts of the war, or ordinary citizens who simply refuse to acquiesce in the pressures of the war. Even in Banja Luka, a Bosnian Serb stronghold, a small multi-ethnic group has formed to preserve the idea l of peaceful coexistence.

These people need to be recognized and supported. They need to know that they have the backing of the international community, that they are not struggling in obscurity. And they need to be able to offer tangible evidence to a public that may be induced to search for alternative leadership that the future lies with them and not with war-mongers.

Yet until her meeting with Mr. Clinton, Pesic had been ignored by the US and European leadership. No doubt this stems, in part, from the perception that she and others like her constitute a vastly outnumbered minority without any real power. But as Pesic points out, "How many troops did [Czech President] Vaclav Havel command during his period of imprisionment? Who is going to build democracy if our words are both silenced by our regimes and ignored by the outside democratic world?"

CLINTON should therefore build on this initiative and invite other moderates to the White House and let them know that he is prepared to assist Serbia's reentry into the family of nations once it has chosen a more responsible leadership. And he should encourage his European counterparts to do the same.

But there is more-concrete support that Clinton can offer Serbia's beleaguered opposition: He can help establish independent broadcast media directed toward the former Yugoslavia that would make it easier to subdue the war frenzy raging there. Most observers attribute Milosevic's continued popularity in part to his ability to manipulate popular perceptions throughout the broadcast media. Recently, for instance, Radio-TV Serbia claimed that the 56 Muslims who died in Srebrenica after fierce Serb shelling of the Bosnian town were in fact Serbs who had been tortured before they were killed.

Such bald lies must be countered if there is to be any chance of dampening the hysteria that fuels support for Milosevic and his war.

Support for the anti-nationalist opposition in Serbia offers no guarantee of an early end to the war raging in the Balkans. But it is an absolute requirement for building a stable peace in the region.

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