San Francisco Croats and Slovenes on Yugoslav Crisis
by Stephen Schwartz
The Bay Area's highly organized Croatian and Slovenian communities are sticking close together during the present crisis in Yugoslavia, keeping in touch with relatives back home while coordinating efforts in behalf of the two nations' independence movements.
"Most Slovenian Americans have their ears at the telephone or are stuck to their radios," said John Ravnik of Oakland. "We are sending telegrams to Bush demanding support for the democratic program of our Slovenian nation. They are a democracy under attack by the last remaining Communist regime in Eastern Europe, the Serbian hard-liners."
Ravnik estimated that there are about 8,000 Slovenian Americans in the Bay Area, far outnumbered by an estimated Croatian American contingent of 50,000. Both communities are centered in the South Bay, with their ethnic activities concentrated on church and cultural organizations.
Meanwhile, the Office of Croatian Affairs in South San Francisco, which coordinates cultural and political activities in support of the nationalist government of President Franjo Tudjman, announced that a demonstration will be held tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. at Union Square in San Francisco.
"This event will be part of a worldwide campaign to support Croatia," said the group's office manager, Julie Busic. "We want to encourage the U.S. and the other powers to recognize Croatia and Slovenia."
The Serbian American community in Northern California, numbering about 20,000, has also been affected by the events in Yugoslavia, although its members seem to be depressed by the repressive image the republic has received.
Dusan Djordjevich, a Serbian analyst on Balkan affairs at the Hoover Institution, said: "We're seeing one of the final steps in the disintegration of the Yugoslavia created by Tito, as well as of the south Slavic state created after World War I. The view that Serbia is the aggressor is simplistic. Everybody in Yugoslavia right now is obsessed with their national claims, and the ideological chickens have come home to roost in post-Communist Yugoslavia.
"Serbia suffers from having retained the former Communists in power, but the fact is that Serbian interest in maintaining Yugoslav unity involves the problem of the millions of Serbs who live outside the borders of the Serbian republic, in Croatia and Bosnia. Their desire to live in one state has to be taken into consideration in discussing Yugoslavia's future," Djordjevich said.
On Wednesday night, the Croatian Hall in South San Francisco was the scene of tumultuous celebration as hundreds of Croatian Americans gathered to celebrate the move toward independence.
"This is mainly a conflict between democracy and communism, not a tribal fight," said Boris Petrovchich, a South Bay businessman and prominent Croatian advocate. "There has simply been no progress in the talks between the political leadership, which went on for more than a year."