The Kosovo Conflict


Sir, - Mr Peter Walsh (July 30th) suspects me of the view that outside intervention in the Balkans is wrong-headed, given the depth of the "ancient ethnic hatreds" in the region. This attitude on his part is of course arrant nonsense. My view is that international intervention on the Kosovo problem is vital, provided it is intelligent.

In my review of Richard Holbrooke's book I described it as misleading because of the author's stubborn refusal to recognise ethnic hatred as a source of war. My source for that is the author's own words. It is significant that a debate on this should be taking place in America, popularly in works like those of Kaplan and Malcolm, and that it should coincide with the emergence of the United States as the sole superpower - "the world policeman", as Soviet representatives in the United Nations used to say with a sneer, during the Cold War.

The collapse of communism took the West by surprise, and the world policeman got a bad case of the NYPD Blues, as did all of us in Europe. It is quicker to rob and destroy than to build and protect, and Bosnia lay in ruins - thousands of its people raped and dead - while Europe and America still squabbled about what should or should not be done to prevent it.

Having worked in Sarajevo and Mostar, which I loved, nobody was sadder than I to hear of the dismemberment of that beautiful part of Yugoslavia, the wholesale violation and massacre of its people and the ruin of its irreplaceable Islamic, literary and architectural treasures. It would be a mistake, however, to forget that comparable horrors had occurred in other parts of the federation, and are now beginning in Kosovo.

Ms Olive Braiden (July 31st) hopes we shall not find ourselves pondering half a century from now how we allowed a handful of genocidal bullies to cow us into silence. But it is less than that since we were arguing heatedly among ourselves about the propriety of keeping silent about the massacre of a great part of the Serbian population by the genocidal bullies of the Republic of Crotia. (On this I recommend the works of the late Hubert Butler, particularly Escape from the Anthill.) If that episode was not an example of the inflammatory effects of ethnic hatred, show me a better one.

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to the United States for using its military power to put an end, as best it could, to the killing in Bosnia. But what worries me is that people who call for "diplomacy backed up by credible force" are really urging force backed up by their own idea of diplomacy. Imposed, quick-fix, Band-Aid solutions do not heal deep wounds that have festered for so long. The Irish, above all, know this. For his intemperate attack on the Irish people for an alleged "marked reluctance" to treat with thugs on the international scene on the basis of "diplomacy backed up by credible force", Mr Walsh owes a public apology to the memory of the most distinguished peacekeeper of this century, General Sean Mac Eoin, who died this week, and to all those Irishmen who at this moment are risking their lives in the cause of peace in 12 or more trouble-spots around the world.

To be quite fair to Mr Walsh, I am in agreement with him on his main point: the compelling need for intervention in Kosovo both on purely humanitarian grounds and on what he rather vaguely calls "any cold-blooded assessment of the wider political implications, too well rehearsed to be repeated here." But are they? Let us not forget that it was Russia's defence of its fellow Slavs in Serbia against Austria-Hungary's declaration of war in 1914 that led to the first World War. The Slavs, not unlike the Irish, are prepared to fight each other but dislike others joining in. Can anyone seriously imagine that, even today, Russia would stand idly by while the South Slavs were subjected to "credible force" by the West?

The first step towards a reasonably secure and durable political future for the Balkans should therefore be a comprehensive agreement between Russia and the United States on how to persuade the Milosevic clique in Belgrade to abandon its wild dream of restoring Greater Serbia, the empire of Stefan Duchan, which stretched from Belgrade to Salonika and whose ultimate target was Constantinople, and to join in intensive and if necessary permanent international talks aimed at co-existence and reconciliation, rather than continued ethnic hatred and bloodshed.

Naive and impractical it may sound, but it should be tried; otherwise the future for the Balkans is a savage war every generation and a permanent slide into barbarism. As our own greatest poet once put it, in a moment of similar despair: "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart." - Yours, etc., Tadhg O'Sullivan,

St Thomas's Road, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin.