The Soviet break up – a model?

A coup d’etat against Soviet President Gorbachev was attempted in Moscow on 19 August 1991 by hard-liners, but thanks to the resolution of Russia’s President Yeltsin and due to the unequivocal position of the Soviet Army it failed. The Baltic States made good use of the turmoil and pressed ahead with their claim for the restoration of their sovereign independence. Hungary gave them the strongest possible support, not only by a declaration issued by the Government on 24 August, but also by resuming diplomatic relations (“dormant” since 1940) with them and inviting President Landsbergis and the three foreign ministers to Budapest for signing the protocol about that on 2 September.

Hungary was unable to take a similar lead on independence for Slovenia and Croatia, although in view of the general escalation of the tensions, and the military action against Slovenia, we had to abandon our earlier position, supporting the preservation of Yugoslavia as a confederation. We continued to advocate strong international steps in order to stop the violence,18 while doing our best to contribute to the thinking of the leaders of the EC members. Prime Minister Antall personally briefed the ambassadors of the EC, the G-7, Austria and the Soviet Union on his government’s views on the situation in Moscow, and on how the Yugoslav crisis affected Hungary. He made it clear that in line with the Helsinki Final Act Hungary committed itself to respect the existing borders, so territorial claims against Yugoslavia were out of question, but deemed it necessary that the rights of the Hungarian minority be respected. Antall also voiced his concern over the frequent violation of Hungary’s airspace by Yugoslav planes, and over the military measures used for inducing the population of South Baranya (North-Eastern Croatia) to escape and thus to vacate their homeland. Many Yugoslav citizens, Hungarians and non-Hungarians, found refuge in Hungary. The solution of the crisis clearly required more effective international action than used hitherto.19

The United Kingdom and France had been instrumental in the creation of Yugoslavia at the end of World War I. In the Cold War Western Europe looked upon Tito as the brave leader who did not give in to Stalin’s threats, and a leader who successfully kept together a State composed of related but different ethnic and religious groups. That’s why it was so hard for the European Community to accept the idea of the break-up – the first substantial change in the European state structure since the end of World War II. Victor Meier, for thirty years the Balkan correspondent of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and later of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a foremost specialist on Yugoslavia, was very critical of the western diplomats who served in Belgrade, for not realizing that Yugoslavia was beyond repair, its unity could not be preserved against the irrevocable wish of the non-Serbs. “These people bear their share of responsibility for the catastrophic errors of the West’s policy in Yugoslavia.”20 Some western governments barely hid their fear that an independent Slovenia and Croatia, perhaps together with Austria and Hungary, would form a German sphere of influence, adding to the already heavy political, economic and military weight of Germany.

When the rebellion of the Serbs of Croatia turned into a war by the military action of the JNA, the “Jugoslav People’s Army,” it became obvious that the resolution of the conflict was impossible except on the basis of the recognition of the full independence of the two western republics. The Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina, who received many threats both from the Belgrade-based authorities and their close neighbours, precluded Hungary going ahead with recognition, even together with a few countries, but we started to prepare for the future, that we would soon have two new neighbours. We were ready to receive in Budapest the representatives of Croatia,21 and while showing our sympathies, we explained to them the restraints on our actions, which they fully understood. At the same time, however, I agreed with Dimitrij Rupel, the Foreign Minister of Slovenia at his Budapest visit on 26 August that we should open new border crossings, as well as a Hungarian diplomatic mission in Ljubljana.22

The foreign ministers of the EC were scheduled to meet on 27 August to break the deadlock caused by the unwillingness of the Yugoslav partners (in practice the Serbs) to keep their word and honour the ceasefires. They, led by Van den Broek, still hoped that Yugoslavia might be kept together, and behaved accordingly.23 Prime Minister Antall on 23 August called in the ambassadors of the EC and briefed them on the Hungarian position. The gist of his message, communicated also in writing, was that “all mediation and negotiations failed to bring results, fighting is reaching the border of Hungary, and the non-Serb inhabitants are forced to flee. In view of all that the Government of Hungary repeatedly calls on the members and governments of the European Communities to take an effective and common stand for the resolution of the crisis. That is no longer an internal affair; it affects the whole international community. Countries which still have a special prestige in Serbia, like the United Kingdom and France, have a special responsibility to exert pressure… All means at their disposal should be used: the conflict management mechanism of the CSCE, the influence of the EC, of the UN and the Security Council, as well as political pressure.”24

At the Vienna meeting of the CSCE Conflict Prevention Centre on 2 September Yugoslavia admitted that it had violated the airspace of Hungary several times and promised to do their utmost not to allow that to happen in future.25 The foreign ministers came up with a new plan, which was adopted by the Senior Officials of the CSCE on 3 September: a new ceasefire in Croatia to be monitored on the trouble spots; a peace conference in The Hague between the six republics, the federal government, and the EC, presided over by Lord Carrington (a former British cabinet minister, later Secretary-General of NATO); and finally a Court of Arbitration under M. Badinter, the former Head of the French Constitutional Court. Despite all these efforts open and all-out war was started by the Serb-led army in Eastern Croatia (Slavonia) in mid-September. The aim was limited to annex Croatia up to Virovitica (Verőce), and to “cleanse” it from all Croats and Hungarians. Soon the bombardment of Dubrovnik followed. That barbarous act, followed by the siege and eventual occupation of the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar amid most serious war crimes like killing the patients of the local hospital, turned world public opinion against the Serbs. Even Moscow could not disregard that.

On 3 September Prime Minister Antall paid a visit to Subotica (Szabadka), a town in the Vojvodina, very close to the Hungarian border, with a large Hungarian population. There he met Ante Marković, the Prime Minister of the Yugoslav Federation. They agreed on the principles and conditions for the peaceful solution of the crisis: the creation of an association (Commonwealth) of sovereign Southern Slav States, extensive individual and collective (group) rights for the national minorities, and on the need for effective political control over all armed forces. The two leaders declared the issue of the sale of weapons by Hungary and the violations of Hungary’s airspace by Yugoslav airplanes as closed. Prime Minister Marković promised that those Yugoslav citizens who were compelled to flee to Hungary would be repatriated and given compensation for their losses.26

Serb Provocations and Hungarian Proposals

Despite the pledge of 2 September Yugoslav airplanes continued to violate the airspace of Hungary – undoubtedly a deliberate provocation in the hope that retaliation might bring Hungary into the conflict, recalling the memories of the two World Wars. We were determined to remain calm and restrained, so as not to give any pretext for harassing or even “cleansing” the Hungarians of the Vojvodina. The next Serb move was to charge Hungary with new deliveries of weapons for the Croats. That was an outright lie, as we pointed out.27 In mid-September full-scale war was started by the Serb-led Yugoslav Army against the Baranja region of Croatia, along the Hungarian border, where a considerable part of the local population was Hungarian. In view of the deterioration of the Yugoslav crisis caused by the constant violation of the cease-fires by the Serbs, the attacks on Hungarian villages in Croatia, and the news of war crimes committed, Prime Minister Antall had two phone conversations with Chancellor Helmut Kohl on 5 and 20 September respectively. He gave a short account of his meeting with Prime Minister Marković, then pointed out that the federal Yugoslav government had absolutely no control over the armed forces, who openly collaborated with the Serb irregulars. Hungary had to admit tens of thousands of refugees, 90 per cent of them were Croats. Antall emphasized the need for exercising continuous international pressure on all the players. The Chancellor answered that the pressure existed; all financial and economic support for Yugoslavia was stopped. In his opinion if the next round of peace talks would fail to produce results the independence of Croatia and Slovenia should be recognized. He thought that probably half the members of the EC were inclined towards that. He would raise the issue soon both with the reluctant British and with President Bush.28 On 20 September the Chancellor informed the Prime Minister that neither President Bush nor British Prime Minister Major was ready to make any initiative on the Balkan crisis. Prime Minister Antall said that a general Serbian offensive was likely, starting from two directions. The German Chancellor said that the involvement of the UN Security Council was now desirable.29 Now the Hungarian Foreign Ministry felt compelled to issue a statement on the escalation of the war near the border with Hungary, and on the repeated violations of our airspace. We warned that the war might spread to other regions of Yugoslavia and even beyond.30

The Hungarian Prime Minister, knowing that the President of the United States was not indifferent to his views, initiated a phone conversation with him. He told President Bush how serious the military situation was and expressed his opinion that the Serbs could be influenced only by the US, Britain, France and of course Russia. The latter finally agreed to stop supplying the Serbs with weapons. Antall asked the President to tell Gorbachev and Yeltsin that Serbia was in the hands of the very people who attempted the coup in Moscow a few weeks earlier. “If the world is unable to take a common stand in the Yugoslav case serious destabilization may set in in the whole region.” The President sounded understanding and confirmed that he was ready to receive the Hungarian Prime Minister on 4 October, following Antall’s address at the United Nations. He also proposed intensive diplomatic action, in concert with the EC, and asked if Lord Carrington’s initiatives had indeed failed. Antall mentioned that during his recent visit in Tokyo he had a long conversation about Yugoslavia with Mrs. Thatcher, who would be an ideal person on a good-will mission. The President wondered if Prime Minister Major agreed with that, but promised to work on the problems raised by Antall.31

Three days later Hungary’s Prime Minister had another long phone conversation, this time with Prime Minister Marković of Yugoslavia. The latter said that the latest truce, negotiated between Tudjman, Milošević and Minister of Defence Kadijevic with Lord Carrington’s mediation (the Igalo agreement) appeared to hold, and it might work if pressure continued on all the parties. Antall said that although the recognition of sovereignty was now on the table, it was possible only if the EC acted together. Marković was ready to accept that if it came from the peace conference in The Hague. He said that in principle he supported local and regional autonomies, including that of Kosovo and the Vojvodina, but also that of the Serbs of Kosovo, the Muslims of Serbia and of all the three elements of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Hungarian Prime Minister offered to maintain the lines of communication through Hungary for Serbia and the other republics, and also to continue to look after the increasing number of refugees from Yugoslavia, including the schooling of their children.32

In all my talks and addresses during my numerous trips abroad I set forth and explained such principles of Hungarian foreign policy as the importance of self-determination and self-government, our dedication to good-neighbourly relations with the States and nations surrounding Hungary, and the need to safeguard the individual and collective rights of the national minorities in Central and Eastern Europe, where borders cannot separate the various national groups who live intermingled in an ethnic mosaic. With the aggravation of the Yugoslav crisis I redoubled my efforts to convince my audiences about the urgency to end the violence in Yugoslavia, and that the key issue for that was satisfying the legitimate demands of the national minorities. I spoke in that vein at the prestigious Klingendael Institute in The Hague on 5 September, in Moscow on the 10th at the CSCE Conference on Human Rights, and on 19 September in Paris at IFRI, the Institut Français des Relations Internationales.33 My words on Yugoslavia summarized my own and my government’s thoughts.

“Now there is another question, another country I cannot refrain from saying a few words about: Yugoslavia. I have already mentioned that what is happening there is terrible and it is happening in our neighbourhood, right on the borders. It is something in which we, simply as human beings, cannot be neutral. But we also have two other points of interest. One is that unless there is peace and stability in Yugoslavia, we cannot have real stability, we cannot have large numbers of people investing in Hungary, neither can we have tourists in large numbers. But we have an even more important reason to feel concerned. We have half a million fellow-Hungarians living in Yugoslavia. The vast majority of them, about 400 thousand live in the Vojvodina, a province which used to have autonomy but now is practically an integral part of Serbia. Smaller communities of Hungarians live in Croatia and in Slovenia. The Hungarians in Slovenia and Croatia are in agreement with these republics in demanding independence for them and they ask the Hungarian government to recognize these countries. The Hungarians in the Vojvodina under Serbian control, whom we can really regard as hostages to the Serbian or Yugoslav army, say simply that they want to be left out of the conflict between the Southern Slav nations. And the Hungarian government holds the same opinion. For us it is rather easy to say we are neutral in the conflict. But for the Hungarians in the Vojvodina it is not possible simply to say that because unfortunately the young people there are being called up to the Yugoslav army although the Hungarian representatives in the Belgrade Parliament have repeatedly asked the authorities not to call them up because this is a conflict with which they have nothing to do. They do not want to shoot at anyone and certainly they do not want to shoot at possible Hungarians on the Croatian side. Unfortunately several young Hungarians already lost their lives and of course this is only a part of the bigger tragedy. Hundreds of people lost their lives in the conflict, far larger number than in the Gulf War. So the basic Hungarian interest in Yugoslavia is peace. From a theoretical point of view in my personal opinion and also in the opinion of the Hungarian government, the ideal solution would have been a confederation of sovereign states. Until a few months ago that was probably a realistic alternative or solution. I do not know but I fear that this option may be lost or at least may be lost for a considerable time. It may have been shattered by the planes and guns which are destroying so many buildings and killing so many individuals, not only soldiers, not only the members of the Croatian territorial forces but young children and old people in nursing homes, too. So that is indiscriminate shooting and bombardment. I will just underline some points which I think should be born in mind if one tries to find a lasting political settlement in Yugoslavia.

First of all the demand for cease-fire is something that not only the Community has voiced, but which has been the Hungarian standpoint right from the outbreak of the conflict. Apart from that it is very important that all parties in Yugoslavia should adopt the principle that armed forces should not be permitted to play any political role. In Yugoslavia the inviolability of existing – international and internal – borders should be upheld. It does not exclude a negotiated change of borders between the republics, but so far I do not see any readiness for it on either side, in the case of any republic. So I think it is better to keep the existing internal borders. Probably a crucial question in Yugoslavia is that an agreement should be worked out and applied all over Yugoslavia on granting political and cultural autonomy to the various minorities living in the various republics of Yugoslavia. That arrangement would guarantee the legitimate wishes of the Serbs living in Croatia, but it should also be adopted in the Vojvodina for the Hungarians and for the other minorities. […]

The danger exists that the ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia may spread from Croatia to other areas of Yugoslavia, particularly to the Vojvodina, to Kosovo and Bosnia, especially to areas where the population is mixed, i.e. various peoples live side by side very often in the same village, in the same town. I think that it might be very useful to expand the mission or the competence of the international monitoring group to these areas as a preventive measure, because it is always easier to prevent a conflict than to stop it once it starts. And in the talks about the future of Yugoslavia it is not enough in my opinion to have representatives of the six republics. The representatives of the two regions, Kosovo and the Vojvodina, whose autonomies were abolished only recently, should also participate. So I am advocating not only some sort of participation by the Hungarians in the Vojvodina but also by all the minorities. In the Vojvodina, apart from Serbs and Hungarians, there are quite a number of Croats, Slovaks, and Rusyns.”34

In late September several countries, including France, the UK, Canada and Hungary (now a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council), took the case of Yugoslavia to the Council. Many nice speeches were given; mine was a dramatic account of the situation on the spot.35 The result, Resolution 713 (1991), was meager: the reiteration of the pious wish to have a lasting and fair settlement by common consent, and a general and complete embargo on all deliveries of weapons and military equipment to Yugoslavia was decided. The resolution came too late to have any restrictive influence, and in effect it helped the Serbs rather than the Croats, since the former had almost the whole Yugoslav arsenal in their hands. Neither could my Prime Minister achieve much in his subsequent address to the General Assembly on the issue of Yugoslavia, but the relevant part of the speech is worth quotation in full, as an eloquent and full exposition of the problem from the viewpoint of Hungary.

“… the promising process of creating a peaceful and prosperous, free and democratic Europe is fundamentally endangered by situations of conflict, such as we can witness, for example, in the case of Yugoslavia, where the forces of communist-nationalist dictatorship, which have not suffered a complete defeat yet, confront the followers of democracy; where the efforts of the self-determination of nations within the same political system are increasingly given overt expression; where the just demands for nationality and minority autonomy are stifled; and where above all these, the army has slipped out of constitutional control.

Due to the danger to Europe’s security and stability, Hungary is greatly concerned about the tragic developments in Yugoslavia and feels a special responsibility for the half a million Hungarians living in that country. World public opinion entertains the false belief that there is a cease-fire in Yugoslavia, violated only by sporadic incidents in towns of unknown names. I am sorry to say that in reality a constant and cruel war is being conducted. There is mobilisation on a mass scale, which has been condemned even by the constitutionally elected president of Yugoslavia. Ill-prepared conscripts are deployed in the battles of a conflict in which they do not want to participate. Therefore young people from among all the nations in Yugoslavia flee across the border numbering hundreds and thousands to escape being drafted and a senseless death. The Croatian and Hungarian civilian populations are being driven away from their places of residence. In addition to refugees from other countries, Hungary already has thirty thousand Yugoslav refugees, of whom only ten per cent are Hungarians. Our country finds it increasingly difficult to manage the manifold human and financial issues of this crisis.

It is in our basic interest that the crisis enveloping our southern neighbour will be resolved by political means and in a democratic way, in accordance with the principles laid down in the Helsinki and Paris documents and the UN Charter. Similarly to the other participants of the CSCE, Hungary supports the mediating efforts of the European Union, including the activity of the Hague Peace Conference. In this regard, I must stipulate that it is essential to include the representatives of the Albanian and Hungarian as well as other concerned ethnic minorities institutionally in the resolution of the conflict, and to take their just aspirations into account. We believe that the crisis in Yugoslavia can only be resolved in the long term by simultaneously applying the right of nations to self-determination, as well as universal human and national minority rights.

We welcome Resolution 713 of the UN Security Council, which declares that the Yugoslav crisis threatens international peace and security and which expresses its concern about the consequences of the crisis affecting the countries of the region, especially the border areas of neighbouring states. It also specifies that any violent territorial change within Yugoslavia is unacceptable and pledges full support for the peace efforts of the European Union and the CSCE.

We are convinced that the international community and all those participating in the Yugoslav peace process must draw the indicated conclusions from the situation caused by the bloody violence and act according to the actual conditions.

It is in the universal interest of the whole world that crises and tensions in Europe be resolved as soon as possible and that a united and stable Europe be established, which can act as a stabilising force in neighbouring regions and beyond. In the pursuit of this process the UN will have significant responsibilities to perform in the near future.36

Leaving New York Prime Minister Antall arrived in Washington D.C. on 3 October. On that evening he and I had an intimate dinner with the Acting Secretary of State Larry Eagleburger at the Embassy of Hungary. Most of the conversation was around the Balkan crisis, its implications, and how to resolve it. We argued for the US to take a more active role, and if necessary, to get NATO involved. Whether he was sincere or just polite, at the end of the evening the Secretary took leave with the following words: “You have convinced me about your idea of the solution. Tomorrow you have thirty minutes with the President to convince him, too.” The meeting on 4 October ran to 45 minutes, and was most cordial, but it was not possible to take the President along a path which would have been too difficult to win the approval of both Congress and the American public. It took almost four more years and two hundred thousand deaths in Bosnia for our proposals to be accepted by the United States.

The three Central European countries which had shown their opposition to Soviet domination and the communist system, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, established the Visegrád Cooperation on 15 February, 1991. The second summit of the leaders took place in Cracow on 5–8 October. At the concluding press conference, upon the initiative of Polish Foreign Minister Skubiszewski, a renowned legal scholar, indignant about the appalling war crimes committed by mainly Serb soldiers and irregulars, a very strong joint statement was issued by the Polish and the Hungarian Prime Minister on Yugoslavia. They called the action of the Yugoslav Army aggression, banned by international law and the UN Charter, demanded immediate cease-fire, and the sending of international peace-keepers to Croatia.37

On 18 October the President of the Yugoslav Peace Conference, Lord Carrington, proposed a plan named after him, which could have solved the problem of the Serbian minority of Croatia, and, if applied to other minorities, would have done a great service to Europe. Milošević and his associates claimed that the sole cause of the fighting in Croatia was their concern for the Serbs in Croatia. They could accept Croat independence, but the eastern regions, where most of the Serbs of Croatia lived, had to be joined to the remaining Yugoslavia. The Carrington Plan proposed the recognition of the republics who wanted it, on condition of the extensive protection of minorities by giving them special (autonomous) status. It also stipulated that the borders of the republics could be changed by mutual agreement. At the outset the plan would have applied to Kosovo and the Vojvodina as well, but later, so as not to provoke Milošević, that was dropped. Nevertheless the offer was turned down by Milošević. The essence of the Carrington Plan was the realization of the strange settlement pattern in South-Eastern Europe, the ethnic mosaic, that many national groups formed separate enclaves surrounded by a different people, or overlapping each other. The key issue was (and is) to guarantee the survival and future of the national minorities by giving them special status, autonomy, in other words self-government. The EC endorsed the plan, but after its rejection it lacked the political strength (or will) to carry it out. In the opinion of the present author if in 1991 the European Community had adopted the principle of „special status” for the national minorities in the eastern half of Europe as one of the preconditions for European integration, most of the later conflicts, from Slovak-Hungarian tensions to the war in Georgia, could have been avoided.

Serb actions like the bombardment of Osijek and even more of Dubrovnik gradually turned world public opinion and even the oldest friends of the Serbs like the Russians against the aggressor. A new Hungarian statement noted that the Yugoslavia conference in The Hague was moving towards recognizing the break-up of Yugoslavia, but warned that any settlement must also safeguard the rights of the minorities.38 A non-paper drawn up by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry proposed various measures for ending the war, including sanctions and the use of force. Belgrade protested to the Hungarian Ambassador in Belgrade; the Hungarian answer showed that the proposals as well as the recent parliamentary debate in the Hungarian Parliament were in line with the various international peacemaking efforts.39 Indeed that was the case. Based upon UN Resolution 713 (1991) of 25 September 1991 (imposing an oil and arms embargo on Yugoslavia) the Secretary-General appointed former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance as his Personal Envoy. Vance soon had to abandon his original hope that Yugoslavia’s unity could be saved.

As we have seen, since the summer of 1991 Yugoslav airplanes almost regularly violated the airspace of Hungary with small incursions. There could be no mistake: those incursions were not accidents, they were provocations to bring Hungary, the enemy in two World Wars, into the conflict. We resisted the temptation to retaliate since that might have led to a very serious confrontation. On 27 October a most severe incident took place: a cluster bomb was dropped on a building in Barcs, a small town in the south of Hungary, close to the border with Croatia. The plane as well as the bomb came from Serbia. Fortunately there were no casualties. We sent a Note Verbale to the CSCE Conflict Prevention Centre in protest. Miraculously it worked: no more incidents occurred in our airspace. Hungarian-Serbia relations were now at a low ebb, the atmosphere around the 400,000 Hungarians in the Vojvodina was very heavy, young conscripts from among them were used as cannon-fodder in the war against Croatia. In order to improve our relations with Belgrade I invited Foreign Minister Vladislav Jovanovic to visit Hungary. He came on 27–28 October, just after the bombing incident. We had tough discussions, my colleague presented a distorted version of the events of the past few months, but he understood that in their increasingly isolated situation the Serbs needed Hungary as a window to the outside world, especially since their lines of communications with the West were severed by the war raging in Croatia.40

The Protection of Hungarian and Other Minorities

When Antall met President Bush on 4 October he was asked to set forth his proposals for a solution in writing. The result was a six page long letter sent on 28 October. The Prime Minister started by pointing out his conviction that the underlying cause of the Yugoslav crisis was “the survival of the communist ideology in the leadership of some republics and the Army, and consequently their conflict with the republics where democratically elected parliaments have rejected the communist traditions.[…] In case the international community is unable to facilitate the democratic solution of the recent crisis it would send a negative message for the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, which liberated themselves and restored democracy, or at least move towards it. At the same time such a failure would give encouragement to the supporters of the old, totalitarian regime, who still exist. It is also obvious that the situation in Yugoslavia has

a decisive impact on the outcome of the ongoing transition in the Soviet nuclear superpower. Therefore Yugoslavia is likely to serve as a precedent, it will show whether international cooperation can or cannot solve such a crisis.” There are also geopolitical implications: the south-eastern flank of NATO is wedged between the Muslim republics of the Soviet Union and the crisis-ridden Middle East. Antall reiterated that the whole crisis could have been avoided by accepting “the idea of a confederation of sovereign republics …The rights of national minorities could have been guaranteed by ensuring territorial and personal autonomies. In fact it was the lack of these autonomies which lead to the outbreak of armed conflicts.” Now the “military activities may spread into Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and also to Kosovo and the Vojvodina.”

The major points mentioned in the letter for a real solution were the following:

It must be absolutely clear for the Serbian leadership that forcible changes of the internal borders in Yugoslavia will not be recognized.

The observance of the arms embargo imposed by the Security Council of the UNO must be monitored strictly and effectively along all the borders of Yugoslavia on land and sea. […]

1.5 A declaration should be made that those who violate internationally accepted legal norms of warfare during military actions will not avoid being held responsible in accordance with international law.

1.6 The international community should examine what kind of urgent and coordinated application of economic sanctions (e.g. oil-embargo, etc.) could bring about a cease-fire and the readiness of the parties for negotiations.

1.7 CSCE institutions for handling and resolving conflicts should be strengthened so as to create organic link to other elements of the Euro-Atlantic cooperation, like NATO, EC, WEU. Preparations should be made for the establishment of effective peace-keeping (or peace-making) forces.

One of the measures proposed concerned a lasting settlement: “Should the Hague Peace Conference prove unsuccessful, the international community could take immediate measures to recognize the sovereignty of the republics that have already decided or will declare it in accordance with the rules of parliamentary democracy.”

Antall stated that on the issue of recognition Hungary would “act in consort with the decisions of the European Community and other state,” – obviously a reference to the U.S.

A most important point for Hungary was the following: “The crisis in Yugoslavia proves convincingly that the unsettled situation of ethnic minorities represents a serious danger for the stability of Europe. I am convinced that full guarantee of the rights of ethnic minorities in Yugoslavia would not only promote the settlement of disputes but would serve as an example for other countries with a mixed population, such as, among others, the Soviet Union.” The letter also proposed denouncing “any forcible change in the ethnic composition of the population…” and creating an international mechanism for guaranteeing the rights of minorities in Yugoslavia. In conclusion Prime Minister Antall summarized the damage caused to the economy of Hungary by the crisis.41

Reading this thoughtful letter twenty years later one is struck by the wisdom of most of the proposals, as they later became cornerstones of any settlement. It is also a testimony to the remarkable foresight of Antall about future dangers, including the consequences of not meeting the legitimate demands of the national minorities.

The conduct of the Serb authorities and their armed forces could no longer be tolerated by the international community. The 25 October meeting of the Yugoslavia Peace Conference and the subsequent meeting of the EC foreign ministers on 28 October could not but condemn Belgrade. Serbia was threatened with sanctions and with the recognition of those Yugoslav republics who requested that and who observed human rights, including the rights of the ethnic and national minority groups.42

As a follow up to the Prime Minister’s diplomatic efforts Antall and I continued to argue for action. UN Special Envoy Vance visited Budapest on 6–7 November.

After his meeting with the Prime Minister I had a two hour long talk with Vance. He definitely moved closer to our standpoint, including the need to protect the minorities and to have international observers also on the Hungarian side of the border with Yugoslavia. Based on our personal affinity I sent a letter to Van den Broek, drawing his attention to the likely consequences of failure over

Yugoslavia, like adding an Islamic or Slavic solidarity dimension to the crisis.43

While most governments were still hesitating, two prominent US Senators from the Democrats, Al Gore and Claiborne Pell (the latter’s father was US Minister to Hungary in 1941) submitted a resolution for the recognition of Croatia and Slovenia. They argued that Serbia committed aggression with the intention to change the post-war borders. At the same time they called upon Croatia to make binding commitments for protecting the rights of the Serb minority, accepting international supervision to ensure that.44 The resolution was fully in line with our ideas for a solution.

The Hungarian political leadership was concerned not only with the security of its own country (then under serious threat from the ongoing war along our southern border) and the future of the Hungarian communities in Yugoslavia, but also with the danger of the conflict spreading to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Before that happened, in a letter sent to several highly-placed people involved in trying to find a settlement, I wrote the following: “The UN should immediately try to send peace-keeping forces not only to the territory of Croatia but also to those areas of Yugoslavia where there is still a fragile peace: to Bosnia and to the two formerly autonomous provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo. Without that a

wholesale massacre may occur, as reports confirm.”45

On 8 November, the European Community finally felt compelled to impose sanctions on the warring parties of Yugoslavia. That was followed by a decisive meeting of the foreign ministers on 16 December. Prime Minister Antall and I, representing a country with an associate member status, were invited for the lunch preceding the decision about recognition. We ate little and talked much.

In the afternoon we learned that after heated debate the ministers concluded that if both Slovenia and Croatia met the conditions for the protection of their national minorities their sovereignty would be recognized. Both did so, Croatia even changed her Constitution to that effect, and on 15 January the European Union recognized the two secessionist republics as sovereign independent States. Next day The New York Times carried an op-ed written by me: “The Right Choice over Yugoslavia.” While welcoming the recognition I regretted that it did not come earlier, so as to prevent or shorten the armed conflict. I urged further peacekeeping in the potential conflict zones (thinking particularly about Bosnia-Herzegovina), and that “the world should insist on local autonomy for minorities like the Albanians of Kosovo, Hungarians in Vojvodina, Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, and non-Serbs in Serbia.”46

In Hungary, we knew that the conflict on the territory of Croatia was far from over, and that the fate of the Hungarians in the Vojvodina was still uncertain. Prime Minister Antall turned again to President Bush, this time specifically on the issue of the Hungarian minority, befitting someone who carries a brief for all the Hungarians of the world. “I ask you and your government to use all your influence in order to ensure the personal security and civil and minority rights of the long-suffering Hungarians of the Vojvodina. They wish to remain out of the war, and in order to see that in the international attempts to bring about a settlement of the conflict, those rights should be accorded firm international guarantees. […] preventing them from falling victim to the possible actions of extremist forces. My government would highly appreciate it if a way could be found for officials of your country to meet the leaders of the Democratic Community of Hungarians in the Vojvodina. […] I would like to point out that ever since the outbreak of the crisis in Yugoslavia, the government of the Republic of Hungary has striven consistently to promote a democratic resolution of the conflict along our southern border, on the basis of the European-Atlantic system of values and with consideration for the interests of all nations and ethnic minorities in Yugoslavia. I trust that our partners, including Serbia, will appreciate the balanced and moderate policy pursued so far by the Hungarian government towards the Yugoslav republics; this policy is aimed at maintaining constructive relations and cooperation with all South Slav republics, on a basis of common interests with them in the long term.”47

Then still unknown, the horrors in Bosnia were still ahead, but with the recognition of two former Yugoslav republics the foundations for a new, peaceful South-Eastern Europe over the ruins of Yugoslavia were laid. Hungary’s contribution in that, largely unknown to the world, was not insignificant.


18 Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Situation in Yugoslavia, 27 August, 1991. Magyar Külpolitikai Évkönyv [Hungarian Yearbook on Foreign Policy, hereafter HYFP], 1991. Budapest, 1991, pp. 274-275.

19 Prime Minister J. Antall’s briefing for diplomatic representatives, 23 August, 1991. HYFP 1991, pp. 268-269.

20 Meier, op.cit., p.216-220, quote from p. 217.

21 Franjo Tudjman, the President of Croatia, came to Budapest already in April, and met President Göncz, Prime Minister Antall, the Speaker of Parliament, Gy. Szabad, as well as me. We agreed that the Croats of Hungary may set up their own separate organization.. On 28 June Davorin Rudolf, the new Foreign Minister of Croatia, visited me, while his successor, Zvonimir Separovic had extensive talks in Budapest on 28 August. See his interview with the daily Új Magyarország, in the 31 August issue. He quoted Prime Minister Antall that Hungary cannot be the first to recognize Croatia, but won’t be the last to do so either.

22 Népszabadság, 27 August, 1991. Following our talks Rupel was received by the Prime Minister.

23 Meier, op.cit.,pp. 226-227.

24 Communication of the Government of Hungary for the Foreign Ministers of the European Communities, 27 August, 1991. My copy (in Hungarian).

25 Népszabadság, 3-5 September, 1991.

26 Magyar Külpolitikai Évkönyv [Hungarian Yearbook on Foreign Policy], 1991. Budapest, 1991, p. 277.; Népszabadság and Új Magyarország, 4 September, 1991.

27 Új Magyarország, 13 September, 1991.

28 Note on a phone conversation between Prime Minister Antall and German Chancellor Kohl, 5 September, 1991. My copy (in Hungarian).

29 Note on a phone conversation between Prime Minister Antall and German Chancellor Kohl, 20 September, 1991. My copy (in Hungarian).

30 Communication by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Yugoslav violation of Hungary’s airspace, 17 September, 1991.

31 Notes of a phone conversation between Prime Minister Antall and President George Bush, 20 September, 1991. My copy (in Hungarian).

32 Notes of a phone conversation between Prime Minister Antall and Prime Minister Ante Markovic of Yugoslavia, 20 September, 1991. My copy (in Hungarian).

33 For the Hungarian translation of my remarks see HYFP 1991, pp. 278-289, 291-297, and 301-315. respectively.

34 The text of my IFRI talk delivered in English is among my papers.

35 My address of 25 September, 1991 is in HYFP 1991, pp. 316-320.

36 Prime Minister Antall’s address delivered at the XLVI session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on 1 October, 1991. HYFP 1991, pp. 323-325. The English translation is in Antall’s Selected Speeches…pp. 267-268.

37 Joint Statement by the Prime Minister of Hungary and the Prime Minister of Poland on the Situation in Yugoslavia. HYFP 1991, 331.

38 The statement by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry was issued on 18 October, 1991. English copy in my possession.

39 The spokesman of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, J. Herman was quoted by Népszabadság, 19 October 1991.

40 For my expectations of the exchange see Népszabadság, 26 October, 1991, on the talks Népszabadság, 30 October, 1991.

41 Prime Minister Antall to President George Bush, 28 October, 1991. My copy of the original English.

42 Declaration on the Situation in Yugoslavia, 28 October, 1991. My own copy.

43 Minister for Foreign Affairs G. Jeszenszky to H. van den Broek, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands and Chairman of the EC, 15 November, 1991. My copy of the original.

44 Memo by chief foreign policy adviser Gy. Kodolányi to P.M. Antall, 14 November, 1991. My own copy.

45 G. Jeszenszky to Lord Carrington, H. van den Broek and C. Vance, 8 December, 1991. My copy of the original.

46 Géza Jeszenszky: “The Right Choice on Yugoslavia” The New York Times, 16 January, 1992.

47 Prime Minister J. Antall to President G. Bush, 8 January, 1992. Copy of the non-official translation is in my possession.

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