To Serb With Love

Pavle Milic untangles his Balkan roots and discovers a cauldron of ancient passion and prejudice

Pavle is in no mood.
"I cannot believe people. Some of the people I wait on, there is no other way to describe them. They're freaks. I listened to these people at the restaurant. They are going on vacation and they are renting dolphins. Someone is bringing dolphins to them and will pen them up with nets. There is a war going on and people are renting dolphins."

It isn't merely the idle rich that are under his skin.
"My generation is meaningless," declares Pavle.
"My generation, we have not been exposed to any sort of movement. We have had our music and drugs, but we don't know anything more significant than our cars or our college degrees."

Stopping genocide and ethnic cleansing would certainly give meaning to any generation.

Is Pavle prepared to put on a uniform? After all, he is a naturalized citizen of the United States, and these are his people. Is he a ground troop?

"No way, Jose," he responds.
Pavle Milic's answer resonates all the way to the White House. If he won't serve, who will?

Writing recently in the New York Times, Jacob Weisberg made the point that stopping genocide in the Balkans provides meaning to the lives of the president, many members of his cabinet and a substantial part of the baby boom generation.

Weisberg argued that Clinton and his advisers wish "to prove that it was the Vietnam War that they objected to, not the risk of war and sacrifice of war per se."

He speculated that the World War II movies of Steven Spielberg have provided the moral inspiration for those who came of age in the Sixties.

But Clinton wants to stop genocide without American casualties. The lesson he learned from Vietnam wasn't that war is wrong, but rather that body bags sent home to the States are political death. His is a draft dodger's learning curve.

So he depends upon "surgical" bombing to create his legacy as Oskar from Schindler's List. But it's the wrong Spielberg movie.

Stopping the Holocaust took the lives of hundreds of thousands of ground troops, death so vividly captured by the reenactment of the Normandy invasion in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Then we dropped two atomic bombs.

Clinton has shown that you cannot stop either the genocide or the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans without the ground troops necessary to stand between Muslim and Christian. How will he ensure the peace when the bombs stop? How many men, for how long?

When you listen to Maritza Yosimlevic rationalize the ethnic cleansing, you might be tempted, with American can-do assuredness, to assume that you possess the moral high ground, like a teacher breaking up a particularly vicious schoolyard fight.

But a teacher must put her hands on the combatants.
For all the talk of war crimes in the Balkans dating back to the early Nineties, for all of the legal tribunals, and especially for all the mass graves, there have been no significant prosecutions of war criminals.

No one anticipates that last week's indictment of Slobodan Milosevic by the international tribunal in The Hague will have any more effect upon the president of Yugoslavia than similar indictments had on Bosnian leader Radovan Karadzic or his top military leader, General Ratko Mladic, both of whom walk about freely.

Now that NATO has at long last responded, with limited force, what will the peace look like?

Are we proposing the English tranquillity of Northern Ireland?
The difficulty of the challenge is not an argument for paralysis but simply a caution against arrogance in the face of complexity; after all, America's only real experience with ethnic cleansing consists of putting Indians on reservations and interning Japanese.

The number of displaced ethnic Albanians from Kosovo is inching toward a million. In Bosnia, in 1992, it was estimated that 750,000 Muslims were pushed out. In 1995, some 200,000 Serbs were forced to flee Croatia.

Pavle does not believe his president has any plan to solve the problem of such staggering levels of ethnic cleansing throughout the Balkans.

The bombing smells to him of politics. However many ethnic Albanians are at risk, the truth is we made a better show of it when the royal family of Kuwait was threatened.

"The feeling I have is one of powerlessness," says Pavle. "Who do you talk to about it? Who cares? Nobody! If I had the opportunity to go over there as some sort of peacekeeper, or a journalist who could get out the facts, I would do it. But not as a soldier. No way."

The bookmark in Pavle's life never moved. He always opened at the page where his identity formed the plot.

"Every customer I have ever waited upon always asks me, 'Where are you from?' Always," said Pavle.

In fact, he made it a permanent part of his tableside hustle, offering to pay for dinner if his inquisitive guests can divine his bloodlines.

"In 12 years, no one has ever guessed except once a couple of years ago when I first returned to New York City and was working at The Lobster Club.

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