A 7-year-old Serbian boy named Bogdan recently sent an e-mail to his friends who live in the United States: “Dear Zare and Andrija, I have just spent 24 hours in the basement. You should congratulate us. We survived.”
Zare and Andrija are lucky. Their father, Zikica Perovic, moved his Serbian family from Yugoslavia to Minnesota to become a visiting professor of mathematics at the University. They don’t need to hide in the basement like their neighbors back home.
That doesn’t mean the bombing doesn’t affect them, Perovic said Wednesday at the “Teach-In on Yugoslavia.” The event, which was sponsored by the Ad-Hoc Faculty Committee for Peace and Justice and the Progressive Student Organization, took place at La Raza Student Cultural Center.
Perovic sat among about 60 other people gathered to hear the thoughts of five professors and PSO activist Anh Pham. They discussed NATO’s military involvement in Yugoslavia and its air attacks targeted to halt Serbian troops from forcing ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo.
Speakers struck comparisons of the United States’ presence in Yugoslavia to its previous involvements in East Timor, Vietnam and Iraq. The United States has an interest, many said, only in the United States.
“To think that Washington is the answer is to miseducate,” said August Nimtz, Jr., a political science professor. “It’s a twig; it’s a false hope. A drowning man will grab at a twig, too. To think that Washington has a humanitarian bone in its body is to grab for a twig.”
Nimtz said the United States’ mission to re-establish capitalist ties in Yugoslavia dominates its current military activity. He added that the rivalries inside NATO about who will claim the highest stake in Eastern Europe run rampant.
“There is fierce competition of U.S. and German capital,” said Erwin Marquit, a physics and astronomy professor, standing up from his seat in the crowd. “When Bosnia became an issue, Germany jumped in. The United States is taking the southern route through Kosovo.
“If you look at the Kosovo Agreement, it says Kosovo is to be a free-market economy. What does that have to do with anything? The issue isn’t the resolve, but to open up the markets.”
Oil is also an issue, said April Knutson, a French and Italian lecturer and member of Women Against Military Madness.
She said an oil pipeline running right through Yugoslavia helped prompt the United States to take a keen interest in the country’s affairs.
“The United States has decided to demonize (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic when there are other dictators and oppressive regimes around the world, but reading the newspaper, you’d think that Milosevic is the only one,” Knutson said.
Indeed, the front pages of newspapers across the nation focus now on Milosevic, NATO and thousands of impoverished refugees; just a few weeks ago, the biggest news was Monica Lewinsky’s hairdo, mused English professor Paula Rabinowitz.
The crowd smiled as Rabinowitz chastised the fickle American news appetite. Then the afternoon tornado siren sounded.
Though routine siren checks are commonplace in Minneapolis, the timing seemed oddly appropriate to the audience.
Underneath the sheer volume of the sirens, which caused the professors to stop speaking, some people managed to be heard saying the sirens reminded them of an air raid — drawing them closer to the issue they debated.
“We need more than bombs to disentangle the truth and dislodge a dictator,” Rabinowitz said after the siren died down.
Comments like these sent ripples through the crowd. Each remark produced several more in its wake, and many people tried to take the floor at once.
When Perovic spoke in his thick Slavic accent, however, the room hushed to listen.
“You say free the Albanians,” Perovic said. “I say why not free the Serbians. I felt oppressed there, too.”
Perovic lived in Kosovo at a young age, until his family was forced out for being Serbian. He said the Serbian population in Kosovo slowly waned, first to 50 percent, then to 30 percent and recently to only 10 percent.
The question now, said Perovic, is when do the Serbians get to go back to Kosovo?
But no one looks at these issues, Perovic said; no one bothers to study the history and look at the reasons for the conflict.
“Whenever we make conclusions without having information, it is wrong,” Perovic said.