- Although I am an American citizen, born
and raised in San Antonio, Texas, I have lived, studied and worked in Yugoslavia
(Serbia) for almost thirteen years now. I initially came to help a friend
build his house in a village near Novi Sad. Subsequently I fell in love,
got married and established my family here. I have been working at the
College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Novi Sad as a language
instructor for about nine years.
- In my time here, I have come to love
the people of this nation, and I am very proud of my new home here. I have
friends among many of the nationalities who live here in Vojvodina and
have an enormous range of friends, from farmers to university professors.
Life here has always been a challenge, dealing with the languages, with
the economic crises, with the nearby wars. However, it has been overwhelmingly
rewarding. My life was peaceful and full of love and companionship, until
Wednesday, March 24, 1999. That evening, NATO bombs began to fall on my
second homeland, and on the town I call home. How could anyone decide to
stay here in the midst of NATO air strikes, among a people the western
press claims is committing "ethnic cleansing"?
- There are two reasons for my being here.
My daughter Sara was born on at 2:30 a.m. on Monday, March 22, 1999 in
the local hospital. My wife and daughter came home on the very day the
bombing started. They are doing well, but they are obviously in no condition
to travel. Moreover, in a state of war, it is very hard to find a means
of transportation which is adequate to their needs. The wisdom of sitting
in a metal container with a heat signature at this time and place is also
questionable. There are also the technical problems of registering my daughter
when I dare not step out of the house. You cannot cross borders with an
unregistered baby. On the other hand, I am not sure I would leave even
if those conditions were met. My life, my apartment, my work, my family,
many of my friends--they are all here. I am a loyal resident of this country.
I teach, I translate, I do whatever I can to make my community a better
place to live in, just as I would if I were living somewhere in the USA.
I have been met with open arms and embraced by the people of this land.
Leaving them in this hour of need does not seem right. In the end of all
things, my son Luka and my daughter are half-Serb
- As the bombs and rockets rip the land
each day, I find myself reflecting about why this is happening. Knowing
that I have freedom of expression in my homeland, I have decided to share
my reflections. I find my thoughts following two lines of analysis. I would
like to express them both in this editorial
- First Line - Citizens of Serbia
- From the standpoint of the people who
live here, shock was generally the first feeling experienced when the attacks
began. Now, we are all appalled at what is taking place. The long term
friendship between Serbia and the USA was destroyed when the first bomb
fell. It is true that the Serbs have a traditional friendship with the
Russians, but that is not to overshadow their remarkable ties to the US
throughout this century. The media have a way of sidelining that fact,
but the history books bear it out. People here feel betrayed by a traditional
ally -- the US.
- Yet, the Serbs have a history of fighting
against greater powers. The Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians, and the Germans.
Now the Germans are being allowed to take part in a new campaign against
the Serbs. The Hungarians have allowed NATO to use their airspace, as have
the Croatians. The raids are being launched from NATO air bases in Italy.
Seen in terms of the Second World War, none of that comes as a great surprise.
It also comes as no surprise that, now that NATO has invaded a sovereign
state for the first time in its fifty year history (the cynics here say
it was only a matter of time), people here are not in a panic. They have
faced the "big guy on the block" before, have taken some beatings,
won some victories, and survived. They feel they will survive this as well.
- In the past, the attackers were always
neighbors. The current air strikes prove that the world has become indeed
a Global Village, in the most pessimistic sense of that phrase. President
Clinton says that we have vital interests in the Balkans, and he is striking
Yugoslavia as easily as if it were a next door neighbor. The difference
this time is that there are relatively few (are there ever too few?) civilian
casualties. The advanced technology of the NATO pact is allowing precision
strikes on military and nonmilitary targets. (Blowing up an old soap factory
and a defunct cable factory seem to be the questionable targets in Novi
Sad itself). A famous Serb author, Svetislav Basara, has written that such
advanced technology was not created for humane purposes. He claims that
human casualties are to be avoided because a dead enemy is a dead consumer
for the global market. You cannot sell fancy western products to corpses.
While cynical, there is a ring of truth to this. Thus, the Yugoslavs feel
they are being attacked because they refused to sign an agreement that
was being sold to them by America, one which would ensure a "global"
way of life, but one which would put NATO forces on their sovereign territory.
These forces would necessarily include American troops, by the way, no
matter what the White House is currently claiming about its unwillingness
to include ground forces in this particular package. When one reads the
document signed by the Kosovar Albanians in Paris, this becomes apparent.
It contains Annex B which states that NATO would have the right to move
freely throughout Yugoslavia. In earlier times, signing such a document
would be called a "capitulation", and from a territorial stance
- Opinions about what should be done with
Kosovo were divided as long as I have lived here. Some said the Albanians
were welcome here. Some said they should behave more like normal citizens.
(There are some 100,000 Albanians living in Belgrade. On Sunday, some of
them staged a protest against the bombing. This was warmly greeted by the
Serbs.) Some said that Kosovo should be partitioned off and given to Albania.
Others claimed that Kosovo should be swept clean of Albanians and resettled
by Serbs. There was no consensus. When that first Tomahawk crashed into
Serbia on Wednesday night, all divisions ceased. Kosovo will now be dealt
with the way the government here feels it should with the whole-hearted
backing of the general populace. NATO has rushed in where even fools do
not dare. By declaring war on the Serbs, NATO has set the current humanitarian
problem in motion. There were always problems in Kosovo, but the NATO strikes
are clearly at fault for the fact that tens of thousands of people are
on the road out of the country tonight. Whatever people here thought of
Milosevic's regime before (and there are always varying opinions about
politicians),they now back him as their commander-in- chief. Just as people
would in any other country.
- There is also a sense of frustration
here about the fact that Russia, China, India, and Greece are being ignored
so blatantly. The news broadcasts from the UK and US keep showing government
and NATO leaders talking about how they have the support of the "International
Community". Clearly, they have redefined the term "International
Community". For NATO leaders that means anyone who agrees with them.
Anyone who dissents is marginalized. One can presuppose that the tens of
thousands of people protesting in the streets all over the world are also
not a part of the International Community. Turning a deaf ear to opposition
is not one of the hallmarks of democracy, and is certainly incongruous
with what we Americans consider to be the "American Way".
- The stance of international justice also
seems to have gotten muddled for those of us who reside here. In the first
place, the Serbs have been hit by NATO twice before. Once in Croatia and
once in Bosnia. This newest wave of bombing proves that NATO has something
personal against the Serbs. No one can answer the logical question of why
the Serbs are always the ones to be Satanized by NATO and the western media.
An analogy will help to clarify the situation: when the Serbs attacked
Vukovar and it was left in ruins, they were labeled "war criminals".
On the other hand, pictures are now coming out of Prishtina (the capital
of Kosovo). The NATO bombers have inflicted irreparable damage to the town,
leaving it looking very much like Vukovar. How will the NATO leaders be
labeled for that? The devil in me doubts that they will be labeled little
other than "heroes".
- The enormous spirit and tremendous sense
of humor among the Yugoslavs is overwhelming. True, many are frightened,
in hiding from the explosions which seem to come from nowhere. But overall,
the spirit of these people is far from broken. They understand that NATO
could have destroyed 600 targets in two days, but that the demands of psychological
warfare dictate that it be drawn out over a longer period. The unease of
knowing when and where the bombs will come is supposed to generate feelings
of uncertainty and discontent. Such tactics are failing miserably here,
and the majority of the people have decided to ignore that particular element
of the game. Each day there are concerts in Belgrade's main square, people
move about their lives and jobs with additional care, but life has very
much gone on here, as if to spite what they see as the childish tactics
of the war technicians in Brussels. One of the most startling things I
have heard these days was the comment of a young friend of mine. "They
can take my life," she said, "but they cannot take away my dignity."
Her dignity is more important to her than her fear of cruise missiles.
That gives cause for reflection.
- Second line - A Citizen of the United
- This is not about divided loyalties,
a lack of patriotism, or schizophrenia. I have always loved my country,
and I love it today. I still feel it is the greatest place on earth. As
an ex-patriot, I am in a position to see many of the beauties of the United
States from an objective distance, and thereby my love for my homeland
is perhaps even stronger than for many of the people who live in it. Moreover,
I am one of the representatives of that country for, though I am only a
private citizen, my work brings me into contact with thousands of people.
For many of them, I am the only American they have ever met, or will meet,
and their impression of the United States often depends on their impression
- Though I am no political or legal expert
(I am just a humble English teacher), the situation in which I find myself
demands that I ask the question of what the justification for these air
strikes can be. Article One of the NATO statute clearly states that the
organization's members are not to use their military might against any
sovereign state, unless that state attacks them. Yugoslavia has attacked
no one. Yet, since Wednesday, NATO has been pounding a variety of targets
all over Yugoslavia. Logically, an organization which violates its own
founding principles must cease to exist as an organization, or it must
reformulate its founding principles. Perhaps there was a secret meeting
where NATO suddenly amended its statute so as to allow it to attack at
will, to crush countries who have rejected their offers of membership,
for example. Or, perhaps they should reconstitute themselves under a new
name. NATO ceased to exist as a legal entity at 7:55 p.m. on March 24.
- Second, in making the decision to bomb
Yugoslavia without a specific resolution from the United Nations, NATO
cast the UN aside as a totally marginal institution. The NATO members knew
that if they put up a resolution in the Security Council to bomb Yugoslavia,
the Russians and Chinese would veto. Their excuse for the air attacks is
Yugoslavia's non-compliance (as they describe it) with earlier resolutions.
This means that NATO will now have a free hand to attack any country which
refuses to comply with a resolution. Tonight, on the sixth night of bombing,
the UN has taken no firm action to reestablish its authority. The Russian
representative to the UN has tried to pass several resolutions to stop
the bombing, which are now all being vetoed by the US. Catch 22. The only
conclusion I can draw as an average citizen is that the UN must either
react to what is happening, or lose all credibility as a political factor
in the world. That will destroy fifty odd years of hard work and enormous
expense, and will certainly not make the world a better place.
- Furthermore, as Americans we tend to
think of the cost per value aspect of any exchange. The United States,
with a population of about 250 million, the most powerful country to have
ever existed, has already spent billions of dollars of the taxpayers' money
blowing up military targets in Yugoslavia, a country with a population
of about 8 million. The taxpayers' money is also causing "collateral
damage" to schools, hospitals, and private homes, right in the heart
of Europe. All of this is inconceivably illogical. Are President Clinton
and Madeleine Allbright telling us that our enormous economic and diplomatic
power could not be used to convince an ally to remain an ally? That is
clearly a fantasy. The problem rather seems to lie in the fact that, somewhere
in the planning rooms, a program was drawn up to set the Balkans up in
a manageable way. With the Serbs being the largest ethnic group in the
Balkans, it is clear that their country must be atomized, they must be
disunited so that they are no longer a regional power in Europe. In Paris,
the Serbs were presented with a fait accompli. "Agree to NATO presence,
or we are going to blow up your army and kill your citizens." If one
looks at the events of the past decade, this idea is at least worth consideration.
In terms of buying power, those tax dollars may have been better spent
on an intensive study of the problem, a detailed analysis of the history
and characters of the peoples involved, and a carefully planned negotiation
- I do not believe that President Clinton
has ever been to Kosovo. I do not believe he has ever seen the beauty of
the 800 year-old monastery of Gracanica, which was also damaged by the
air attacks. He never saw the mosques, the synagogues, the cathedrals and
patriarchates. I have come to doubt he ever really sat down and talked
with Albanians from Kosovo, or with Serbs from Kosovo, to find out what
they really wanted. I am convinced that he could have come to Yugoslavia,
sat down with the parties in the conflict, and convinced them there was
a peaceful way out. I would contend that, as the highest representative
of the most powerful nation on earth, he had a responsibility to do so,
if one of the vital interests of the United States is to ensure peace in
Europe and in the world as he claims. Rather, without a clear understanding
of the mentality of the people who live here, after analyzing piles of
statistics and military data instead of the moral and spiritual state of
the people of Yugoslavia, he decided for violent action. He thus put the
lives of American military personnel in grave danger, with very little
or no authorization from the American people. In doing so, he violated
the principles of the Presidency, the principles upon which the UN and
NATO were founded, and ultimately he was unfaithful to the American people.
I am not angry at him. I feel misled and betrayed by him and certain individuals
in his administration. With such actions and policies, the present administration
is making the world an unsafe, even dangerous, place for all citizens of
the United States. That is clearly not in the interest of the average US
- Let us be clear again: I am not trying
to justify the Yugoslav authorities or any of their actions. That is their
business, and their experts must work on presenting a clearer picture of
their vision of their own country. BOTH sides should have sat down and
worked on a proper solution, that is obvious. What I am saying is that
the people of Yugoslavia, and especially the Serbs, are not genocidal monsters
as they are being depicted by the Clinton administration and the western
media. Please heed the words of one who has lived and is still living among
them, even when they are at war with my own country. These are a broad-minded
and loving, if stubborn, people. They have criminals, and they have saints.
They are an invaluable part of the vast cultural heritage of Europe, and
they deserve respect, support and encouragement as they struggle to become
a vital part of a thriving Europe. They do not deserve to be showered with
the wrath of the Clinton administration and its dependence on its ephemeral
- THE FUTURE The situation is infinitely
complicated here, and it would require volumes to explain all the intricacies
of the Gordian knot called the Balkans. It seems that President Clinton
has made the same mistake as one of his political forebears, Alexander
the Great. Unable to untie the knot, he simply took his sword and hacked
it in two. And we know the ultimate fate of Alexander and his Empire, and
of all empires which place might above right. Perhaps it is not too late,
but a major turnabout is due.
- To the sounds of air-raid sirens, tonight
I will bathe my baby daughter and put her to sleep. I will continue to
teach my five and a half year-old son to read and count. And I will teach
both of my children to live by the principles upon which America, and all
western civilization, was founded. I will do this because I believe the
greatness of our culture is not in its material wealth or military power.
It is in its commitment to principles, justice and morality.
- Tonight, light a candle and whisper a
prayer for us, will you? We will do the same for you.
- Peace on earth, good will to men.
- (author's name withheld for obvious reasons...)