Washington, 16 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton says the war in Kosovo must be the final conflict of our times.
In remarks to newspaper editors in San Francisco, California, Clinton said Thursday the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and subsequent conflicts in the Balkan had its roots in Kosovo with Belgrade taking autonomy away from the province. He said "the war that began in Kosovo 10 years ago must end in Kosovo."
Clinton said ethnic cleansing waged by Serbia against Kosovo's ethnic Albanians cannot be allowed to be the defining battle -- a harbinger of things to come in the 21st century.
Clinton said: "The tragedy in Kosovo is the result of a meticulously planned, and long premeditated, attack on an entire people simply on the basis of their ethnicity and religion, an attack grounded in a philosophy that teaches people to dearly love a piece of land, while utterly dismissing the humanity of those who occupy it. "
Clinton said most people have a vision of the 21st century with the triumph of peace, prosperity, personal freedom and respect for ethnic, racial and religious minorities. He said this vision is threatened by the "oldest demon of human society -- our vulnerability to hatred of the other, those who are not like us."
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, he said, is trying to capitalize on this ancient hatred.
Clinton said Kosovo is a small place on a large fault-line on the border lands of Central and Eastern Europe, at the meeting place of the Islamic world and the Western and Orthodox branches of Christianity. It is a place, he noted, where many wars have been fought over faith, land and power during the past centuries.
Said Clinton: "Kosovo is far from unique in its region. It is surrounded by nations with similar challenges of history and diversity. The only difference today is that they -- think of them, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Bosnia -- are now at least struggling to realize the vision of multi-ethnic democracy that Mr. Milosevic is struggling to kill."
Further to the East, Clinton said the Balkan conflict is being closely watched.
Clinton said: "Much of the former Soviet Union faces a similar challenge, including Ukraine and Moldova, southern Russia, the Caucasus nations of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, the new nations of Central Asia. These nations spent most of the last half century under communist rule. In the years when Western Europe was overcoming its old animosities by integrating its economies and embracing democracy, in the years when Americans began confronting our own legacy of racial hatred, through open debate and political activism, these nations saw their problems frozen in time, kept in place by a rigid system that allowed no talk of change. They projected to the world a picture of stability, but it was a false picture, a stability imposed by rulers whose answer to ethnic tensions was not to resolve them but to suppress and deny them."
The president said when communist repression ended in the East, these tensions rose to the surface to be resolved by statesmen or exploited by demagogues. He said the potential for ethnic conflict became one of the greatest threats to the transition of former communist countries toward stability, prosperity and liberty.
Clinton said the United States and its NATO allies are waging an air war against Yugoslavia because "we care about saving lives and we care about the character of the multi-ethnic post-Cold War world."
He said that the young democracies in the East that have made the right choices must not be allowed to be overwhelmed by the flight of refugees and the victories of ethnic hatred.
Stability in Europe is important to America and its allies, Clinton said.
Said the president: "We want to build a Europe that is peaceful, undivided and free, a Europe where young Americans do not have to fight and die again to deal with the consequences of other people's madness and greed."