Yugoslav Strife Felt in Bay Area
by Stephen Schwartz
Although they are a continent away from their disputed homeland, Serbians and Croatians in the Bay Area angrily blamed each other over ethnic warfare in a province in Yugoslavia.
The recent fighting in the Kosovo region of southern Yugoslavia has pitted Albanian protesters against an army and special police forces allegedly dominated by Serbian commanders.
"Some are saying we will have an ethnic breakdown like Northern Ireland, but we are more afraid of a Lebanon," said Marija Olujic, a doctoral student in anthropology at Berkeley who is Croatian American. "Most Americans think this is a matter of Serbians vs. Albanians, but we Croatians and the Slovenians also feel threatened by the Serbs. They want to dominate us all."
BAY AREA SERBS
Leaders of the Bay Area Serbian community defended what they see as the rights of their kin on ancient ground.
"The Christian values of the Serbs are clashing with the Islamic intolerance of the Albanians," said Michael Djordjevich, a well-known Serbian American insurance executive in San Francisco. "The Croatians are interfering in the situation because they want to weaken the Serbians and break Yugoslavia up."
To some, the struggle seems to be a matter of ancient and unresolvable cultural differences. But there is also compelling evidence that the basic problems are as up-to-date as the fall of communism, fear of nuclear power and anger over environmental pollution.
A rapt assembly of about 300 Croatian Americans, many elderly, gathered Thursday night at Assumption of St. Mary Catholic Church in San Jose to hear the latest bulletins faxed from Croatia by opposition groups.
One discussion centered on the number of protesters killed after the Yugoslav army entered Kosovo. "They're lying about the figures," said Velemir Sulic of the Croatian Democratic Union. "It is a situation comparable to (Beijing's) Tiananmen Square."
The audience then sat for two hours, watching an amateur video of an ecological demonstration in Duvno, formerly Tomislavgrad, a Croatian-speaking town in the border area of Bosnia.
The video portrayed an orderly but frequently indignant sit-in by thousands of the region's inhabitants, who sought to close down a factory to process nuclear materials that was being built there. A nuclear power plant was planned for the area and was to be run by the central government, dominated by Serbs.
Although nationalistic sentiment seems to be close beneath the surface in these events, some want to emphasize democracy over old hatreds.
Milorad Drachkovitch, for example, is a Serbian American from a distinguished political family; his father was a founder of the Yugoslav state at the end of the World War I. Today he is a scholar at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
"The problems of the Yugoslav state are inseparable from the struggle of the Serbian people for a democratic order," he said yesterday. "Elements that come from the Communist ruling caste, like Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian ultra-nationalist leader, want to establish their own personal power . . . There will be a democratic Yugoslavia or no Yugoslavia."
But ethnic warfare still predominates, much like the battling between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the Soviet Union.
"Serbia will never surrender the Kosovo," said Djordjevich. "We will not allow it to be added to the Islamic belt the ayatollahs and the Khadafys want to establish in Europe. We will not let our Serbian land be split as Cyprus was.
"Today, nationalism and religion are proving more powerful than ideology. It is the land where out ancestors died; and where our graves lie, our borders must lie as well."