THE blue Danube also flows through Yugoslavia. And that country is nothing if not in turmoil. One has wondered, during four years of ethnic and religious disputes and violence in the eight Balkan republic-states, how long Yugoslavia could stay together. How long can a country be coming apart at the seams before it splits? Evidently, a long time. In the past few weeks, however, a new threshold in internal strife has quickly been reached. No longer is the issue keeping the old Titoist federal structure intact. Now the issue is keeping civil war from the land. Europeans have long known the potential for larger conflicts and wars springing from the Balkans. That needs to be carefully guarded against - even while world attention is focused on the Persian Gulf.
The crisis has been coming for months: Slovenia and Croatia effectively withdrew from the Yugoslav Communist Party this spring. The ruling League of Communists is impotent. The economy is in shambles. Yet it's been the Serbian policy of nationalist support for minority Serbs in other republics such as Bosnia, Slovenia, Croatia, and the province of Kosovo that accounts for the main ill-will in the Balkans. Serb nationalism, inflamed since 1987 by Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, is acting as a poison.
Last week Serbs with rifles sealed off Croatian towns along the Adriatic, claiming ethnic discrimination by popular Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman. Albanians in Kosovo, already hateful of Serbian treatment, including loss of basic human rights, are now white-hot about the recent arrest of union leader Hairulah Gorani. Last weekend, 150,000 Muslims in Bosnia demonstrated against Serbian policies.
What can the West do? Not much. Nationalist passions have their own logic, as the Gulf crisis shows. Yet support for the federal Yugoslav government of Ante Markovic must continue, possibly including cancellation of debts, and more technical assistance. It's in everybody's self-interest for that nation not to come apart.