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.
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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."
Kosovo, the site of a bloody battle between Serbs and Turks in 1389, is hallowed ground to Serbs. They say they are fighting terrorists who are trying to rob them of ancestral lands.
Most Kosovar Albanians want Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, to become an independent state.
"The Serbian people, we lost the battle of Kosovo 94 years before Columbus set sail for America," says Stojsic. "The Serbians were occupied by the Ottoman Turks for two and a half times longer than the United States has existed. There are churches in Kosovo that are older than the Islamic religion, from before Mohammed was born. These churches are just ancient. There is nothing there that's Albanian that shows any kind of historical tie to them. Kosovo is like the most holy Serbian place there is."
Then how does he feel about the plight of the Albanian refugees? The killing?
"Oh, it's terrible. And now with the NATO bombing, everyone is leaving. Nobody wants to stay there and get bombed. From 40,000 feet you can't tell a Serbian from an Albanian. Just a little bit ago on TV they showed 30,000 Serbians leaving Kosovo and a bunch of Gypsies and Turks. It's not just the Albanians leaving."
How does he explain the murders, the systematic slaughtering of unarmed citizens? The Bosnian Serbs committing mass murders to "ethnically cleanse" Muslims and Croats from Bosnia earlier this decade?
"It just so untrue. If you want an independent source, get someone who was actually there," Stojsic says. "I wasn't there. But I know the war crimes were on all sides. Whoever was basically a minority in a certain area got the brunt of the attacks."
Natasa asks, "Why don't they report the Serbian genocide? Do you know how many of my friends who have called me crying, saying that their family was slaughtered? This is so deep-rooted. Back in World War II, the Croats killed a million and a half Serbs. That was never widely reported. We are not waging war on anybody. This is a civil war. We are for the common cause of Kosovo. We will all give for Kosovo. I will personally give my blood for Kosovo. We are all like that. I mean, nobody likes to see children [killed] like that, and that doesn't matter what race you are. We are not cruel."
Then who are the Serbs fighting?
"NATO. When somebody drops a bomb on you, aren't you going to defend yourself? We are not waging war on anybody," she says.
The Serb campaign to rid Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian majority began in small villages, then reached the cities and finally the province's capital, Pristina, which some refugees describe as a "ghost town."
"We have no problem with Albanians," says Natasa, "the misinformation here is that it's about religion, and it's about land. We don't care; Albanians can live there. The only reason that there is war now is because they [Albanians] want to declare Kosovo part of Albania."
"The Serbian thing," says Stojsic, "the whole war in Kosovo right now is Albanian terrorists have been attacking Serbian police and Serbian armies."
Does Stojsic feel any animosity from his co-workers, from people driving past while he protests on the street? Anybody threaten him because of his Serbian genealogy?
"No, not at all," he says. "Everyone's pretty cool. Everyone has their own opinion and stuff. And just about everyone I talk to doesn't believe that American troops should be over there. Half the people don't even know where it is, and to them the president has made a clear point as to why they are there. People tell me on the streets, the general American population, 'We support our troops, but we fear Clinton.'"
How does he get his information?
"Over the Internet. We have a Serbian Internet network. We just get all kinds of different news from all these different countries. Wherever there is a Serbian church, wherever there is a Serbian community, every night they are doing the exact same thing [protesting]. Not only in America and Canada, but South America, Australia, New Zealand and all over Europe."
How big is the Serbian-American community here?
"There is between five and seven thousand of us. Every Serbian group in Phoenix is in on the protesting. And we'll keep it up as long as the bombing's going on."
How long does he think this conflict will continue?
"You never know with Clinton; he doesn't have any foreign policy. So whatever the polls say, he is going to go with."
Will there have to be a partitioning of Kosovo on the part of Serbia for this to resolve?
"A partitioning? Yes, maybe. The two sides need to get together.
"NATO is a defensive alliance, and Yugoslavia and none of that area except for Greece is a member of NATO. And if anyone attacked a NATO country, I'd be all for them bombing."
When all is said and done, does Stojsic take pride in being an American?
"Oh yeah, absolutely.
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