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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ethnic Unity Is No Substitute For Tolerance

One feature that distinguishes 20th-century warfare from that of earlier times is that it is usually accompanied by mass movements of people, millions of refugees fleeing their homes, abandoning all but a bare minimum of possessions, crossing state borders, and eventually settling in unfamiliar countries.


In similar fashion, one feature that marks out 20th-century peace agreements from those of earlier times is that they are often accompanied by organized transfers of populations among sovereign states. The principle behind such transfers is that international conflict is less likely if national or other minorities are surgically removed from states where they have been a cause of tension.


Both processes are visible in the Yugoslav wars, although it needs to be said that the Great Powers -- the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Britain -- have jumped the gun somewhat by countenancing transfers of minorities before they have secured a genuine peace. Vast numbers of Bosnian Moslems have been driven out of their native areas in northern and eastern Bosnia since 1992, and this month we have seen the uprooting of practically the entire Serb population of Croatia's Krajina region.


The result is that the "national maps" of Croatia and Bosnia certainly look neater than a few weeks ago. Except for "loyal" Croatian Serbs living in Zagreb and a small Italian minority on the Adriatic coast, Croatia has suddenly become an overwhelmingly Croat-populated state. In Bosnia, the mixed-nationality towns and regions that gave the republic its special identity down the centuries have probably disappeared forever.


It would not be difficult now to split Bosnia into three areas: one for the Bosnian Croats, one for the Moslems and one for the Bosnian Serbs. The Bosnian Croats and Moslems are allied at present, but it does not take a genius to work out that in the long run the Bosnian Croat and Serb areas will gravitate toward Croatia and Serbia respectively.


The question is whether these arrangements will prevent war in the future. Optimists draw comfort from the enormous transfers of Germans from eastern Europe after 1945. More than 10 million Germans fled or were expelled from Poland, the old Czechoslovakia and the former Soviet Union. However tragic the human cost, the transfers ultimately contributed to the present-day stability of Poland and the Czech Republic.


The same could be said for the massive transfers of ethnic Turks and Greeks between Greece and Turkey after the war of 1920 to 1922. Greek-Turkish wars broke out regularly for 100 years up to 1922, but since the transfers there has been no direct war between the two countries.


The problem with this argument is that, if it is to work in the case of the former Yugoslavia, then still more transfers will have to take place. One thinks of the ethnic Albanian minorities in Serbia and Macedonia and of the Moslems who remain in the Sundzak region that straddles Serbia and Montenegro.


The lesson of this century is that, while transfers of populations may sometimes succeed, Europe must find a better way of calming tensions among states that contain minorities. The speed of modern travel and the emergence of large immigrant communities in western Europe suggest that you cannot rely forever on the principle of one nationality per state. In the end, social tolerance and equality under the law are the only answers.