21 SEPTEMBER 1991, Page 26

Slav omelette

Sir: Noel Malcolm (Letters, 7 September) evidently feels so strongly about Yugoslavia that he is unable to respect facts or the ele- mentary courtesies of debate. For example, without any evidence whatsoever, he accus- es me of being 'unaware that the areas (of Croatia) with Serbian populations do not join up on the map with Serbia'. Now no one who has ever seen a map of Yugoslavia could possibly be unaware of that. As Mr Malcolm could easily have ascertained — I have travelled extensively in Dinaric Yugoslavia, while nothing in my letter could conceivably have been read as sug- gesting otherwise. The well-known fact that Yugoslavia is a patchwork quilt of national- ities which rules out partition into neat nation states has always been adduced as an argument for preserving a single Yugoslavia. If this is ruled out by centrifu- gal pressures, other measures to accommo- date ethnicity will need to be found.

Had Malcolm read my letter with minimal care, he could not have said that I claimed the border went back to 1871. I described it as 'the line at which Ottoman advance into Habsburg territory was halted some cen- turies back'. It survived 1871, annexation, Versailles and 1945 virtually unchanged as an internal administrative boundary which affected little. The Krajina, with its specific system of land-tenure and military duties, was set up by the Habsburgs way back, and formally abolished as an entity in the mid 19th-century after the Turkish threat had declined. But its people remain.

My point about Frei's, solecism regarding the origins of the word Chetnik was not a priori but post-facto. If Frei did not know this simple fact, how reliable can he be? A few participants might identify with world war two Chetniks, but by and large, Lika and the Kordun were not archetypally Chetnik areas. A disproportionately large number of the partisans, communist high- ups and partisan officers came from the region, whereas Mihailviches chetniks came mostly from Old Serbia and operated main- ly in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Malcolm rushes in to suggest that I know no Serbian because I used the singular zadruga and mispelled a German word. I did not inflict on English readers the Serbo-Croat plurals of zadruga, and by the same token of Chetnik, for the same reason as I should not use the correct plurals of sonata, concerto or fatwa, per Fowler. With a little effort, Malcolm could have ascer- tained that I know Serbo-Croat and have used it for interviewing and broadcasting.

I did not 'argue in favour of changing Croatia's borders' for the very good reason that it has none, since it does not yet exist, but is in statu nascendi, and unless it comes to terms with legitimate grievances and misgivings of the Serbs in the Krajina its birth pangs will be all the more bloody and convulsive, which would be a pity for all concerned. I am not asking that large nuim- bers of Croats be subjected to Serbia rule, but rather that the South Slav omelette be unscrambled as expeditiously and painlessly as circumstances permit, keeping exchanges of population to a minimum.

Alfred Sherman

14 Malvern Court, Onslow Square, London SW7

Not Joy, Mrs Rider.'