Expatriotism

U.S. Serbs take to the streets to protest the bombing

Spry raving echoes between smoked glass high-rises, liberating the cool night air of its usual calm. In it, a bullhorn assuredly shrieks, "They're bombing hospitals! They're bombing schools!" and, "Stop Clinton now!" All this is heard atop a trilling of whistles, yelps and cheers.

The hubbub--a clear anomaly for a TV-gladdened Phoenix, a city that collectively could not find Kosovo on a map--is the distinct sound of social unrest, pissed-off Americans exercising their constitutional right to freely protest.

Every slack-jawed passerby and surprised motorist is aware of their presence in front of the downtown Federal Building. As are we. We want to hear the flip side to Clinton/CNN ranting. We want a local, Serbian view of the Yugoslav strife, a conflict in which all options for resolution are grave.

Whether one buys what this group is hawking, it is a damn good thing to witness: knowing that not everyone is so numbed by consumerism and consumption that they can't get off their couches and into the streets. It makes me feel downright patriotic.

The well-dressed and -mannered assemblage tonight is young and sober with alert, smiling faces. Some are bouncing multicolored banners projecting slogans like "SERBIAN BLOOD PAID FOR KOSOVO IN 1389, SERBIAN BLOOD WILL KEEP KOSOVO IN 1999!" Others clutch poles waving Serbian flags. They offer articulate, pro-Serb arguments grounded in a deep sense of Serbian civicism and their own Orthodox Christian beliefs.

And it all seems so well-rehearsed.
Many of these Serbian-Americans work for the U.S. government. Some are laborers. Others are in high school or college.

One scrubbed, clean-cut kid named Marko Knezedsebic is a junior at Saguaro High in Scottsdale. He moved to the Valley from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, a year and a half ago. His English is nearly perfect--he picked it up by ear upon arrival here. His parents have yet to learn the language.

"I have to go home and go to bed," he informs me. "I have school tomorrow."
Natasa Radovic, a lovely bottle-blonde in her 20s, lives here with her equally attractive younger sister, Marina. Natasa works for the county attorney and Marina for the Superior Court. The women are first-generation Americans who are exasperated with the NATO bombing. Their relatives in Serbia fear for their lives.

"My mother came here because she wanted us to have a better life; we lived in Chicago," Natasa relates in a Serbian-via-Midwest argot. "There are more opportunities in America.

"Some of my family lives in Belgrade where they are bombing, and Kraliveo, where they are also bombing. My uncle looks out the window, and he sees bombs going off. I mean, they are terrified, they are terrified of their lives."

"But the sad thing is Americans aren't getting the whole story," says Marina. "The ethnic cleansing is going on on both sides. The KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] is killing their own. There's a town in Kosovo called Racak where they wiped out a bunch of Albanians, and then they blamed it on the Serbs. It was because those people didn't agree with the KLA.

"Everybody here, even Serbian-Americans, we would kill for that land," says Natasa. "It is holy land. Albanians can live there all they want. But once they start saying they are gonna make it part of Albania. We won't. We won't let that--I mean, they can live with us. It's not about because they are Albanian we are gonna kill them. It doesn't matter. They can come back if they want. It's not that. But the terrorist organization [KLA] starts killing off Serbian people. And they are not showing that on the news. There is no side that tells of our side."

Standing guard across from the small but vocal throng are a few plainclothes men wearing dress slacks, pressed shirts and unadorned expressions. They seem to understand, even applaud the group's intent and peacefulness.

"They are mostly Serbian-American students protesting the bombing," says one corpulent cop, his handcuffs dangling over his dress belt, his revolver holstered on the opposite hip. "Nothing really goes on here, though."

"I learned a lot talking to these kids," says a snow-haired officer. "I had no idea about what was going on on the Serbian side."

Alex Stojsic works at the Arizona Department of Economic Security as an eligibility interviewer. Friendly and expressive with big, hopeful eyes, Stojsic is the main organizer of the street protests. His parents are both Serbian. Stojsic speaks fluent Serbian, Spanish and English.

Stojsic met most of his fellow protesters through two Serbian Orthodox churches in the Valley, St. Nikolas and St. Sava.

Asked how the genocide and fighting can end while Slobodan Milosevic is in power, Stojsic says, "I don't know if the American public and people in general understand [that] everyone [in Serbia] hated Milosevic. He had absolutely no backing, and there was so many opposition parties. He was on the way out. But now, because of the bombing, they've joined together, and he's gained more power. All the Serbian political parties have set aside their differences, and everyone's come together. And it doesn't matter who would be in charge over there; they can't give Kosovo away. It just means too much to the people there."

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