Let me say it clearly, while there is still time: The recognition of the independence of Slovenia and Croatia by Germany, Austria or other states will lead directly to civil war in Yugoslavia, one that later interference by the great powers could not stop.
Last week, the Austrian government, which has in the past backed Slovenian secession, joined German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher in calling for the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia as independent states. The internal crisis of Yugoslavia was thus turned into an international crisis. Such endeavors by Germanic states not only do not help solve the Yugoslav crisis, they are reminiscent of Hitler's actions on the eve of World War II, when he sought fascistic "allies" in his plan to dominate Europe. Today, the economically and politically powerful Germanic states are seeking and easily finding nationalistic allies in countries that, until recently, were both communist and backward.
To cast Yugoslavia's conflict as one between the democratic republics of Croatia and Slovenia on the one hand and Bolshevik Serbia on the other is nothing but a propaganda trap aimed at winning over the West.
Without exception, the regimes in all Yugoslav republics are authoritarian, even if they are "democratically" elected. Property everywhere is predominantly "socialist." Parliaments are obedient and opposition parties are weak. The media in all the republics are under the considerable control of the state, although least of all in Serbia.
The potential for war rests primarily in Croatia. The secession of Slovenia need not be controversial or difficult. If it is achieved peacefully, with legal and financial issues settled by negotiation, even Serbians are not opposed. Such is not the case for Croatia.
The Serbs and Croats are similar peoples. They were the main creators of Yugoslavia after World War I and maintained it during World War II. As a consequence, they are so mixed together today that any separation is impossible without a war.
I believe the scenario could unfold as follows:
With the successful secession of Croatia, its Serbian minority of 700,000 would erupt. Serbs, and particularly the minority inside Croatia, keep alive the memory of the genocide to which they were subjected, along with Jews and Gypsies, by the Croatian fascist authorities during World War II.
This resentment has been fueled by today's Croatian authorities, who are carrying out and tolerating harsh discriminatory policies against the Serbian population--loss of jobs, various threats and blackmail, and the dynamiting and machine-gunning of Serbian homes. Similar attacks and provocations against Croats are also carried out by the Serbian side. Clashes between paramilitary groups occur daily. Casualties are mounting on both sides. Many Serbs are already fleeing en masse to Serbia, while others are arming themselves and organizing paramilitary groups. There already are Serbian zones in Croatia, which the Croatian state is vainly trying to pacify.
The uprising of Serbs in Croatia would be joined by a Serbian movement in the adjacent republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, with about 1.4 million Serbs. This would in turn polarize and draw into the war the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Muslims in the same state probably joining the Croats because they feel more threatened by Serbs. The republic of Serbia would no doubt come to the aid of the Bosnian Serbs, as would Montenegro, whose population considers itself part of the Serbian people.
The religious and nationalistic war in Bosnia and Herzegovina would no doubt result in massacres of civilians. It would also trigger an uprising of about 2 million Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province. Albania would have to join in, and Muslim countries would aid their "religious brothers" in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.
The scenario for such a war seems not only probable but unavoidable once secession is sanctioned and encouraged by outside powers.
No reasonable person, even in Serbia, can deny the Croats the right of sovereignty or secession. But it would be difficult to find anyone among the Serbs who would agree to surrender 2.5 million Serbs living in Croatia to the inflamed nationalistic and "great-state" aspirations of Croatia.
The same can be said in reverse: No Croat would willingly agree to the tearing off of parts of Croatia (for instance the "independent state" of Kninska Krayina), even though some may be inhabited by a relative Serbian majority.
The only solution, as far as I can see, lies in recognizing the already established equality and sovereignty of the Yugoslav republics, in disarming the various paramilitary groups and in patient negotiation as Yugoslavia moves toward democracy, the rule of law and a market economy.
Rather than foreign instigation of secession movements, Yugoslavia needs economic and political assistance, primarily from the United States and the Soviet Union, aimed at a peaceful solution to the crisis and at building a republican "community of nations" within Yugoslavia, founded on mutual agreement.