Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 22:28:46 +0200

An Editorial


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 Artsand 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  airstrikes, among a people the western press claims is committing “ethnic  cleansing”?

There are two reasons for my being here. My daughter  Sara was born 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 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 thefirst 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 airbases  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 airstrikes 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 not-so-military 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 “annexation”.

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 bombings. 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 inme 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 States

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-patriate, 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 of me.

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  airstrikes 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 Albright 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 process.

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 thePresidency, 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 citizen.

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  military strength.

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.

Randall A. Major

Novi Sad, Yugoslavia