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Shelling Over, For Now, But Hatred Remains

February 15, 1992

DUBROVNIK, Croatia (AP) _ Vronimir Franic downed a shot of Jovanka Popovica’s hazelnut brandy while her grandson stood outside on the city walls, training field glasses on Yugoslav gunboats.

Mrs. Popovica, 82, chuckled as she recounted the mad scramble to shelter when federal forces, led by Serbs, rained artillery on the fabled old city, which Franic, an architect, must now help rebuild.

″She’s a wonderful old woman,″ Franic said. As a crucial afterthought, he added: ″She is a Serb.″

Franic, a Croat, frowned at the word ″Serb″ and shook his head and began muttering uncharacteristic invective. ″Animals,″ he said.

On the other side of the line, a young Serb whose friends include Croats muttered the word ″Croat″ and spat on the ground.

Hatreds are nothing personal among Yugoslavs, who often love their neighbors. But, divided by culture, religion and feuds left too long unsettled, their Yugoslavia is finally giving up the ghost.

In a new setting of political freedom and economic hardship, mistrust flamed into war. Thousands of lives later, friendships still cross ethnic lines, but generic hatreds condemn a dozen different nationalities to separation.

″We love and hate at the same time,″ said Mugdim Karabeg, a Muslim writer in Mostar, in the republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

″Who can explain this fatal flaw of ours?″ he mused. ″Our hearts are beautiful fields of flowers, but a poisonous snake hides somewhere in the background.″

Similar feelings were expressed on a tour of all six republics that made up Yugoslavia. Even more than hatred, there was a resigned sense of loss.

In the trenches near Mostar, where Serb and Montenegrin troops are poised for a wider war if the tenuous cease-fire in Croatia boils over, the irony is strong and bitter.

″How am I supposed to feel, waking up all of a sudden without my country?″ asked Zeljko Vucinic, an artillery captain but also a Belgrade University research scientist in plant biology.

A reservist with cherub curls and thick glasses, he is not the sort of bloodthirsty Serb portrayed in propaganda. Instead, he counts himself as yet another victim in a hopeful plan gone wrong.

″You can’t use rational terms to explain what is irrational,″ said Mario Brankic, a Mostar talk-radio host and pub owner whose roots stretch from Croatia into the Serbian heartland.

Yet others offer a simple explanation: Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia’s postwar leader, stirred a melting pot in which the ingredients never melted. After he died in 1980, all the pieces floated to the top.

Yugoslavia was stitched together in 1918, after a world war triggered by a Serb zealot who shot the visiting Austrian crown prince in Sarajevo. After World War II, Tito sewed it up tight.

A peculiar brand of communism that even Stalin could not bend masked the seams among six republics. Slovenia is as different from Macedonia as Austria is from Greece, yet everyone was a Yugoslav.

But the center could not hold, and things fell apart. As one American diplomat put it, borrowing lines from William Butler Yeats’ ″The Second Coming″:

″The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.″

Whether people are saddened or relieved, interviews in the four republics made it plain that the rifts among a dozen nationalities are all but irreparable for a dizzying array of reasons.

″Yugoslavia is dead,″ pronounced Naim Recica in the Macedonian capital, Skopje. He is an ethnic Albanian who, like other community leaders, is trying to cut the best deal he can in the chaos.

″Democracy doesn’t work so well here,″ he said, accusing Serbian nationalists in Belgrade of upsetting the balance. ″Winston Churchill said history likes winners, and that’s not us.″

Explanations of what went wrong usually include a disclaimer: People say they respect disparate neighbors, and would let their daughter marry one. And all start deep in the past tense.

World War II inflamed differences going back 1,000 years. Of more than 1 million Yugoslavs killed, half died at the hands of other Yugoslavs. Mostly, death was among Serbs and Croats.

″Tito never allowed us to work out hatreds after the war, and they festered.″ said Amfilohije Radovic, archbishop of the Orthodox Church in Montenegro. ″He did not let us know what happened.″

Last year, Radovic watched Serbs open a hidden grave of 1,700 people put to death by the Ustashe, a pro-Nazi government that exterminated Serbs, Jews and Gypsies in death camps and pogroms.

″We are only now finding out the depth of these things,″ he said, adding that it was tragic but inevitable that revenge is being brought on sons for the sins of their fathers.

″It was not only during World War II,″ said Vucinic, the professor, detailing recent cases of forced moves and property abuses to explain why 600,000 Serbs feared living under Croatians.

In Croatia, even those who regret the past are embittered by the present. Serb-dominated army units have shelled cities. Terror squads have killed civilians on the wrong side of the hatred line.

As Croats apply their own brand of terror, the heat is turned up yet higher under the pot of diverse ingredients that did not melt.

Far behind the front lines, Serbs, Croats and all other groups pay a steadily rising price. The economy has collapsed. Travel is hard or impossible.

Beneath the broad currents, people everywhere say what they want is peace and a decent income, with a daily life that is controlled by people they understand, close to home.

In Perast, on the Montenegro coast down from Dubrovnik, Zarko Bubonja tied up his skiff after riding it across the blue waters of Kotor Bay.

″This war can’t last long,″ said Bubonja, a 55-year-old boat builder. ″People want peace. We are open to anyone who is open to us. Fighting is making all of us suffer.″

If the situation confuses outsiders, it is no clearer to Danilo Dajkovoc, 97, who spent 74 years in the Orthodox clergy until retiring as archbishop of Montenegro.

″The war is a disgrace for the Serbs, and I believe there is going to be more blood,″ he said in a mountaintop monastery at the old Montenegrin capital of Cetinje. He condemned all sides.

″This is a needless tragedy because in my generation we accepted each other,″ he said. ″We had everything, and we worked out differences. Today, I don’t know what the hell they want.″

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