IN Sarajevo it is the hour of darkness. Serb forces led by Radovan Karadzic have turned the cosmopolitan showplace of southern Europe into a ceaseless nightmare of mortars and overflowing hospitals with no power or supplies. On July 18, with Yugoslav tanks against Bosnian rifles, Serbs attacked a strategic mountain outside the city. Two visiting State Department officials just filed a report, "Sarajevo: The End is At Hand." Mr. Karadzic, charged with war crimes, controls the city's water and power and ha s shut them off to get Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, a man of character and honor, to talk for the first time of an ethnic partition of Bosnia. This means surrender and a scrap of land for what was 44 percent of the population.
Contemplating the fall of Sarajevo is a milestone not only in the Balkan crisis, but in the post-cold-war world. It should not be allowed to happen. Not since the seige of Leningrad or Stalingrad has there been anything like it. The fall of multiethnic Sarajevo would have implications well beyond the human tragedy. It would represent the victory of a systematic racist and fascist policy and begin to define the geopolitial world as the Berlin Wall defined it 30 years ago. The division would not be only be tween Christian and Muslim - but between orthodox East and liberal West.
It is not clear the West understands this. The siege of Sarajevo is not simply a grab for land. The motive of those responsible for mortaring the city and its civilians from the hillsides is uglier.
Behind the frustration of nearly all Balkan experts in the State Department, who disagree with administration policy in a manner not seen since Vietnam, is an awareness that what is happening in Bosnia is happening at a more conscious level of malevolence than the public realizes. The assault of Sarajevo is an assault on the idea of civilization - of hard earned progress, tolerance, peace. It is an assault on the idea that one can identify all peoples as fellow human beings of dignity and worth.
What is astonishing is the West's acquiescence in this assault. Outside Sarajevo July 12, after a 6-course Serb banquet of food - meats, baby potatoes, carrots, breads, salads, fruits, shortcake - not available in the wrecked city, the French minister of health toasted Karadzic, who announced why Serbs were fighting: "We are doing it for Europe - to make sure Islamic fundamentalism doesn't infect Europe from the South."
The policies of Lord Owen, who recently described Karadzic as "statesman-like," now mirror Serb interests. UN officials threaten to withdraw from Bosnia and say food supplies are running out - to force a Bosnian surrender.
Not all are so fatalistic. Sen. Richard Lugar called on July 15 for unilateral US action to arm the Bosnians and lift the seige of Sarajevo. Senior statesmen George Kennan now argues for action since the "alternatives, for anyone who looks realistically at the problem, will clearly be worse" - reaping a whirlwind.
To ignore the genocide in Bosnia will simply sow the wind.