Every day the Internet server delivers yet more e-mail messages
asking for my position on Yugoslavia. These messages are a source
of growing frustration, for the time when this nation is at war
- and its military personnel at risk - is a time when Americans
of foreign birth (Hungarian, in my case) need to observe silence.
Many will hasten to say that this is not so, especially when a
person's acceptance by fellow-Americans has been overwhelming. But
that is merely a cause for yet more gratitude, not a license to
Still, a contribution of some kind is appropriate or, shall I say,
writing about something else would be frivolous. Here, then, is
my cop-out: a series of snapshots that spring to mind at the mention
of Serbia or Yugoslavia.
1941. Over the objections of the Hungarian Government, the forces
of Nazi Germany launched an unprovoked attack on Yugoslavia, using
Hungary as their corridor. Hungary's prime minister, Count Paul
Teleki, unable to prevent the attack and thus remain true to the
non-aggression agreement with Yugoslavia bearing his signature,
1944. While their wives and children were being carted off to Auschwitz,
Hungarian men of Jewish religion or family origin were shipped by
German Army units to the mines of Bor in Yugoslavia, where they
performed slave labor under inhuman conditions. In November, one-half
of the captives was selected to march in the direction of Hungary,
ostensibly to return home. They thought themselves lucky, but they
were wrong. Those who were not shot on the way, ended up in concentration
camps in German-occupied Austria. Few survived. The lucky ones turned
out to be those who stayed behind in Bor: A few days later, they
were liberated by Tito's Serbian partisans.
1949. The first show trial after the communist takeover of Hungary
featured the communist (not a misprint!) minister of foreign affairs,
accused of conspiracy with the Yugoslav leader, Josip Broz Tito.
Yugoslavia had just been expelled from the Comintern because of
non-compliance with Moscow's directives. The Comintern was Moscow's
means of controlling all communists (including America's). An example
needed to be set, thus the accused Hungarian minister was executed.
1952. We were ordered to hold target practice in our school with
small rifles, shooting at images of Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower,
and President Tito of Yugoslavia. The official representative of
the "Party of Hungarians who Work," as the Communist Party
was renamed (not for the last time), was instructing us in political
realities. "Our quarrel is with the American Imperialists,"
he explained, "not with the American People. But Tito is now
a chained dog of the American Imperialists. Yugoslavia has become
as much a threat to world peace as the American Imperialists themselves."
1953. Some books found their way into Hungary, now hermetically
sealed under Soviet rule. They were printed in Hungarian and contained
text that, in Hungary, would have landed the author in prison or
worse. The books were apparently printed in Novi Sad, Southern Hungary
until the end of World War I, now a city in Northern Yugoslavia.
The books told not one, but two stories: that censorship in Tito's
non-Muscovite Yugoslavia was not comparable to what the Russians
had imposed in Hungary, and that the large Hungarian population
of the region enjoyed a good measure of national existence. Other
millions of Hungarians who, after 1919, had found themselves under
Rumanian or Slovak rule had been the subject of systematic deconstruction.
1956. The Hungarian uprising against Soviet occupation, that pitted
14 year-olds against Russian tanks, appeared successful at first.
The Red Army feigned withdrawal, and a new government took office
with popular support. But, Western and United Nations recognition
being withheld from the new government, the Russians - using the
German technique - launched a Sunday pre-dawn attack and shot at
everything that moved, until about 15,000 lay dead. The legitimate
government sought and found refuge at the Yugoslav embassy. After
long negotiations and Russian assurances of "no harm,"
the Hungarian officials were handed over. Following the German model
again, the Russians executed the prime minister and other leaders,
ignoring Yugoslav protests.
There never was any doubt that President Tito alone had the ability
to hold together an artificial country, created at the conference
table as a French construct. The question was only how long it would
take for Yugoslavia to fall apart after Tito's death in 1980.
It would be helpful for all participants to consider the broader
context of the region, and of history. It would be helpful to abandon
the new vogue of calling everything "genocide," or "holocaust."
Our national debate has already suffered by the constant parallels
drawn between events that appear parallel only to those who know
little about them. We trivialize the ultimate horror by invoking
it every time we want to make a point. Citing Hitler and Stalin
at every turn causes credibility to be lost.
And that, perhaps, is the larger issue. We hear much about NATO's
credibility on the line. But the future of the world depends on
the credibility of the United States and Great Britain. Other countries
either create crises - or suffer them, unable to cope without the
English-speaking world to the rescue.
America's credibility is inseparable from that of its president,
the president's cabinet, the Congressional leadership and, yes,
prominent journalists whose reporting and commentary sets the tone.
The nation and the world must have certainty about their knowledge,
comprehension, and sound judgment of a crisis.
This above all: No doubt must ever attach to the veracity of their