Rep.Tom Lantos Assails U.S. on Yugoslavia
A key member of Congress' foreign policy establishment said the Bush administration is coming down on the wrong side of history by refusing to support the rebellious Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia.
On the day after the two republics declared their independence from the central government in Belgrade, Representative Tom Lantos, D-Burlingame, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he strongly supports greater Slovenian and Croatian autonomy, if not outright secession.
The position places him at odds with Secretary of State James Baker, who insisted last week on the need to preserve a united Yugoslav state and has refused to entertain any hope of recognizing an independent Slovenia and Croatia.
On May 23, Baker certified that "significant strides toward compliance" with European human rights standards had been made by Yugoslavia. The certification was required to lift the blockade on U.S. aid to Yugoslavia put into effect last month by the so-called Nickles amendment, a congressional measure. However, although Baker granted the certification, the Nickles amendment remains in force.
Yesterday, Lantos declared himself "very disappointed with the performance of Secretary Baker" -- both then and now.
"I am disturbed at the parallel between Yugoslavia and China, with the U.S. siding, in Belgrade as well as Beijing, with the status quo against the forces of democracy and pluralism," Lantos said.
"We should be allied with the forces of ethnic autonomy in Yugoslavia, not with the centralist Marxist regime."
Lantos insisted that "Slovenia and Croatia had no choice but to take dramatic action" in the face of the maintenance of a hard-line Marxist regime in Serbia, which is Yugoslavia's largest republic.
The Slovenian and Croatian independence declarations were hastened, according to many observers, by the refusal of Serbia and its supporters to permit the rotating Yugoslav federal presidency to be occupied by a Croatian, Stipe Mesic, last month.
"We have to do a great deal more to support Slovenian and Croatian self-determination," Lantos said. "This does not necessarily mean separation, but it does mean more local control and authority than in the past.
"Serbia's record is one of reduction of autonomy, not expansion. They diminished the autonomous rights of the Albanian majority population in the Kosovo province and the rights of the important Hungarian minority in Vojvodina," the congressman said.
"It is completely unrealistic to imagine that, in an age when ethnicity is increasingly a major issue for all governments, Yugoslavia can continue to exist as a centralist state ruled by Belgrade," he added.
Lantos said he may introduce congressional legislation to change U.S. policy when the House recess, which began yesterday, ends July 10. "I have tried for many years to see us adopt a policy that would force Serbia to accept reality," he said.