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Nationalism Unleashed | The Nation

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Nationalism Unleashed

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As separatism was legitimized, recognized, even guaranteed by the international community, newly independent member republics began working with all their strength on the ethnic homogenization of their own national consciousnesses, forging it through blood relations and strengthening it with religion. At the same time, they began to feel that members of other ethnicities were foreign bodies in the new nation. "Ethnic cleansing" originated from this furor of self-homogenization.

About the Author

George Konrad
George Konrad is Hungary's pre-eminent essayist and novelist. His novel The Stone Dial will be published by Harcourt...

The West recognizes, protects and maintains by force of arms a Bosnia made up of three republics, three nationalities: an entity no less artificial than Yugoslavia was. The West recognized ethnic nationalism and helped it to victory, opening the door to the violent expulsions. By giving top priority to national self-determination and rejecting on principle the federation inherited from the Communist era, the West made individual human rights and lawful, democratic autonomy for cultural minorities subservient to nationalist hysteria.

The decisions have had extremely hard consequences. In the absence of negotiated agreements on separation, armed violence decides issues. If we look at the number killed, the strongest Yugoslav nation, the Serbian, has been the most violent, followed by the others in exact proportion to their demographic numbers. On this basis, the presidents of Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia can all be considered war criminals.

The West preferred to see one kind of violence as more evil than another and to blame its own mistake--an ill-considered policy through the nineties--on Milosevic, now the chief villain. A negative mythology was created not only for him but for the entire Serbian people and, more recently, all of Yugoslavia.

When Milosevic's power was on the rise, he terminated the autonomy of the most developed region within the Serbian Republic, Vojvodina, and the least developed, majority-Albanian Kosovo. Both actions were grave violations of democracy. In Vojvodina, people are trying to use political instruments to restore political autonomy. In Kosovo, after peaceful resistance achieved much success but did not resolve the problem, the radical wing of Albanian nationalism turned to guerrilla warfare and designated complete secession as the goal. Western politicians legitimized the Albanian underground guerrilla organization.

Montenegro, which turned away from Milosevic, is now being bombed back toward him. The offended Yugoslav nation is being rallied around the nationalist chief. Western politicians believe they act against him, but they act for him: The West has walked into the trap. He will suffer nothing, and, as a democratically elected leader, his position will be strengthened. It seems NATO leaders understand the psychology of bombers but not the bombed. Their leaders see only other leaders--not the dead and wounded.

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