Japan can be criticized for its simplistic, one-track mind at times. But over problems like Yugoslavia, the one-tracked Western mind, hardened by ideology and moralistic bias, can do far more harm.

We now discover that the new Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, says he holds much the same views about Kosovo and Bosnia as the previous Belgrade regime, and that he does not want a visit from U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

So what does the United States do now? Renew the bombing of Belgrade? Kostunica puts his finger on the nub of the problem, namely, that few Americans know anything about Serbian history. The same seems to be true for the Western Europeans. We can ignore Serbian claims that for centuries, and at great cost, they saved Europe from the advance of the Turkish Ottoman empire. But how can anyone ignore the brave Serbian resistance to Nazi Germany during World War II, and the resulting massacres of some 1 million Serbs, in Bosnia and Kosovo especially, at the hands of Nazi Germans assisted by their Croat and Muslim allies?

At war’s end, the Serbs would have been more than entitled to wreak revenge on those pro-Nazi rapists and torturers. They would also have been more than entitled to claim not just all the lands where Serbs were living at the time, but also the lands from which so many Serbs had earlier been killed or expelled.

But in the name of ethnic and communist harmony they had to continue to accept minority status in the regional entities of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, where, thanks to the massacres, Croats and Muslims had a much larger presence than before. Serbs were given a strong political position in the centralist communist regime. But for decades they also had to tolerate vicious terrorism from the dreaded Ustashi — fascist Croats who still believed Adolf Hitler should have won the war.

This delicate balance fell apart with the collapse of communism, when the Western nations recognized Croatia and Bosnia as independent states in which the Serbian minorities would have to accept inferior political status under still largely unrepentant Croats and Muslims. Germany’s role in encouraging that haste was unseemly, given its role in previous Yugoslav history. Little wonder that frictions broke out.

Then, when the inevitable cycle of revenge and counter-revenge got out of control, the West decided it was all the fault of a Serbian lust for “ethnic cleansing.” History was ignored.

So, too, was the lesson of all ethnic and ideological wars, from Vietnam through to Chechnya, namely, that civilians become as much the enemy as soldiers, and that if compromise in impossible then the conflicting groups need to be separated physically as quickly as possible. But in Yugoslavia we were told how Western values demanded ethnic harmony and togetherness, even in the highly artificial Bosnian entity.

Thanks to that piece of gratuitous morality, the West now finds that in Bosnia it has to intervene with troops, indefinitely and at great cost, to separate the now thoroughly antagonistic ethnic groups from each other’s throats. In Croatia, the West only managed to avoid the problem by turning a blind eye to the ultimate in ethnic cleansing — the expulsion of the entire Serbian minority.

Over Kosovo, it was even worse. First we saw Albright’s extraordinary preference for the hardline Kosovo Liberation Army (once listed by the U.S. as a terrorist organization) rather than accept an easily reachable compromise solution between Belgrade and the moderate ethnic Albanians. Belgrade’s rejection of her grotesque ultimatum — surrender or die — then led to the vandalistic destruction of the Serbian economy, with Germany again playing a key role and NATO boasting cooperation from nations like Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, which had once actively cooperated with Nazi Germany against the Serbs, and with Josef Stalin against Yugoslav independence.

An element of irrationality seems to have entered Western post-Cold War policies — particularly toward Yugoslavia, the one Eastern European nation to try to move from communism at its own time and pace without Western-approved turmoil. Not just history but even common sense has routinely been ignored.

Over Kosovo, we were told that the use of force on behalf of a Serbian minority to suppress a guerrilla uprising by an ethnic Albanian majority was more “ethnic cleansing,” deserving massive punishment and strong support for the guerrillas. But over Kashmir, the West says that the use of force on behalf of a Hindu minority to suppress a guerrilla uprising by a large Muslim majority deserves understanding, and Pakistan is chided for supporting the guerrillas. India is rewarded with increased aid.

India says, and the West agrees, that preserving the multiethnic basis of the Indian state is why it has to refuse Kashmir its independence, though an ugly Hindu nationalism is also a major factor. Belgrade’s former claims that hasty independence, first for Slovenia and then for Croatia and Bosnia, threatened the multiethnic basis of the Yugoslav nation were laughed off as the delusions of Serb nationalism. And so on.

Till now, the West has been able to get round its Yugoslavia mistakes by blaming everything on the now thoroughly demonized former Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, recently labeled by Newsweek “the world’s most wanted war criminal,” even though his alleged guilt has yet to be proved and his indictment comes from the same people who refused Amnesty’s advice that the NATO bombing of Serbia involved war crimes.

But what does the West do now that Milosevic has gone and attitudes in Belgrade remain much the same? Some much-needed homework on the history of Yugoslavia would be a good start.

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