Robert D. Kaplan
Contributing editor and Correspondents
c/o The Atlantic
Dear Mr. Kaplan,
A friend gave me your article, "Why Yugoslavia Exploded" (Readers Digest, March 1993) a few days ago. I found it loaded with a minefield of inaccuracies and half-truths, which begged a response.
You failed to state that Djilas' predicting his country will be like Lebanon has not occurred. Not a structure was damaged or destroyed, not a weapon was fired in anger, nor a citizen was displaced or became a refugee in Serbia since the war started. The overwhelming number of refugees that Yugoslavia has accepted came voluntarily. Prior to any Yugoslav offensive in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina the indigenous Serbian population was forewarned. Those not having a death wish, fled to safe areas. Despite the rhetoric, there are very few substantiated reports of refugees fleeing because of Croatian or Muslim pressure.
Your labeling the situation in former Yugoslavia "A Cataclysm fermenting for centuries" is in the same league with that other Serbian ideological great lie, "ancient ethnic flicts." These ideas, with no regard to authenticity, permeated the media and have been quoted by every Secretary of State since the outset of hostilities.
The truth is, prior to this century, there had been a remarkable symbiosis between Croats and Serbs. Any battles the Croats did fight were directed against the Ottoman Turks - none of the battles were ethnic.
Although the "Yugoslav" concept was pre- dominantly Croatian inspired, the disparate nationalities felt threatened by the "forced marriage" into the kingdom. However, once the marriage was consummated, their fears became justified for everyone except the Serbs. The Western powers envisioned a loose confederation; instead the Serbs formulated a constitution favoring themselves. After it became clear what the Serbian designs were, the Croatian Sabor (Parliament) refused to ratify the union. Nonetheless, the kingdom became a reality after Serbian troops were sent and stationed in Zagreb. Thereafter all political and economic infrastructures became Serb controlled.
Your article, by disingenuously omitting to mention the reasons that led to the Ustashe and the Serbian government's role during World War II makes the pedestrian reader assume the Serbs were Simon-pure and the Croats deserve all the blame.
What fueled the Serb-Croat hatred was not the assassination of King Alexander, but the Serbs imposing their will on all non-Serbs which started from the kingdom's very inception and the assassination of Croatian delegates, that included Stejpan Radic, the Croatian leader, in Belgrade's parliament by a member of the Serbian Black Hand organization.
The King, instead of punishing the perpetrator, declared the kingdom a dictatorship- renaming it Yugoslavia- and intensified the draconian methods on the non-Serbs.
It was from this uterus that the Ustashe were delivered. Once "born" - like any opposition - they were forced to live as exiles in Italy under Mussolini's largesse. With the German invasion the Nazis installed the Ustashe in Croatia. On a par with the Vichy and Quisling governments, they never represented the Croatians at large and did not enjoy the popularity the Vichy had with the French.
The Serbian government, headed by the former minister of war, Milan Nedic, collaborated to such an extent with the Nazis that Serbia was able to retain significant civilian authority. The Serbian Orthodox Church openly supported Nazi policy and theologically justified persecution of the Jews.
These elements, working together, caused the Nazi civil administer to proclaim Serbia the only country where the "Jewish Question" was solved and Belgrade the first city "judenfrei." It is noteworthy that six months before the war, Serbia enacted laws prohibiting Jewish participation in the economy and the university.
Historical revisionism has created the idea that the Chetniks were somehow allied with the allies. According to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, resistance against the Nazis stopped in 1941.
You, along with other journalists, most notably Dusko Doder and Misha Glenney attempt to incriminate the Croatian and Serbian governments equally guilty for the conflict and imply the government in Zagreb are "fascist." The latter allegation, without a scintilla of truth, excused the actions of the Serbs in Croatia. Despite its faults, Tudjman's government has as much in common with the Ustashe as Moshe Dyan had with the PLO.
When Slovenia and Croatia made overtures for self-determination, nationalism played a minor role. The ethnic groups lived in peace for 45 years after the war. It was not until Milosevic divided Yugoslavia along ethnic lines that the peace was shattered. Milosevic rekindled long dormant Croatian nationalism, particularly after his speech in Kosovo. The HDZ and Tudjman were by-products of what Milosevic set in motion.
The Serbs living in Croatia became terrorized after they started to believe the mythologies orchestrated by Milosevic that the Croats were building concentration camps for its Serbian minority, driven thousands of Serbs from their homes, uncovered a Vatican plot against Serb Orthodoxy and Germany and Austria were conspiring with Croatia to form a fourth Reich. Even some of the Western media conspired with the Serbian big lie.
For example, Reuters made world headlines after one its reporters said he had witnessed 41 Serbian children that had been slaughtered by Croats. He related the gory details on Serbian television, but the next day admitted the story was false. However, his retraction never appeared in Serbia. His allegation continues to be a rallying point for the Serbs.
I hope this information, that you were not aware of, will give your future writings a different perspective. I would appreciate any comments.