Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Frontline World

Dispatches from a Small Planet: Election 2004


Serbia/Croatia


Quick Facts
The ethnic and political tensions that led to the 1914 assassination of an Austro-Hungarian archduke -- triggering World War I -- still haunt the Balkans.
learn more


Related Links
An irreverent, leaderless student group led the charge to bring down Serbia's dictator, Slobodan Milosevic.
learn more


Blogs
A young Croatian blogger follows American polls on the U.S. presidential election.
learn more


News Corner
The New York Times
News from the Europe section of The New York Times

Yahoo! News - Serbia and Montenegro
Breaking news from the Serbia and Montenegro section of Yahoo! News.

Yahoo! News - Bosnia and Herzegovina
Breaking news from the Bosnia and Herzegovina section of Yahoo! News.

Yahoo! News - Croatia
Breaking news from the Croatia section of Yahoo! News.

B92
A major Serbian news source.

email this page to a friend
problems printing?

React
Moderator Comment:
Was the U.S. right to intervene in the Balkan Wars?
See what people said about "Dispatches from a Small Planet: Election 2004"



Untitled Document

Dispatches From a Small Planet: Election 2004


Recent Dispatches
An Election Heard 'Round the World

GREENLAND:
Colin Powell's Glacier

SERBIA/CROATIA:
The Balkans

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC:
Dual Citizens

GERMANY:
Watching the Presidential Debate With Arabs in Berlin

EL SALVADOR:
Payback

CANADA:
Border Town

BELARUS:
The View From the Underground


CHAD/SUDAN:
A Question of Genocide


PAKISTAN:
The Hunt for Osama bin Laden


UGANDA:
President for Life?


KENYA:
Terror, Trade and Tourists


BURMA:
Can Sanctions Bring Democracy?


VENEZUELA:
Hugo Chavez, Clutch Hitter


EUROPE:
Continental Drift


THAILAND:
The Vet Who Didn't Come Home


SYRIA/LEBANON:
The Occupier and the Occupied



By the People - Election 2004 PBS


SERBIA/CROATIA: The Balkans
CROATIA: No One Is Innocent, by Elizabeth Gettelman
SERBIA: Five Years After the Bombs, By Molly Blank


CROATIA: No One Is Innocent
by Elizabeth Gettelman
November 2, 2004

Elizabeth Gettelman

FRONTLINE/World reporter Elizabeth Gettelman.
The day was clear and bright, a springtime first, so we sat outside taking in the sunlight. Our Serb host poured Slivovitz (plum brandy), and my colleague, Vedran Horvat, a Croatian journalist, accepted the small shot glass from our host with a nod, even if his hand hesitated.

We were in Novo Selo, Croatia, a small mountain village just a couple of miles from the Bosnian border. We sat ouside a modest house discussing politics and the past over proscuitto and plum dumplings. Two Americans, two Serbs and two Croats, sitting around an old wooden table -- a gathering of nations with complicated histories. Soon a man with a long, lean, weathered face and a severe gray beard joined us, clutching the tattered ends of his camouflage jacket. We would learn that this man, whom people called Brada ("beard"), was a Serb major in Vukovar, the largest Croatian city captured by the Serbs during the Balkan war in the 1990s. It is still a flashpoint for distrust between the Serbs and the Croats.

Serbs and Croats are ethnically similar and share a belief in Christianity. But Serbs are Eastern Orthodox, Croats are Catholics -- and they are also divided by fierce nationalism. This serene spring afternoon seemed like a chance to share stories of past conflicts and, cautiously, to talk of what lies ahead.

Shelled out home

Throughout the former Krajina region lie shelled out homes, some abandoned from as long ago as World War II. Photo: Mark Murrmann
The war between Serbia and Croatia began in 1991 when Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia, fracturing their union with Serbia and Bosnia. For more than four years, Serbs and Croats fought for land rights and power. Ethnic cleansing ravaged the countryside. And the war spread to Bosnia, where hundreds of thousands were killed at the behest of Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic, who is currently on trial in The Hague, facing dozens of counts of war crimes.

Nearly 10 years after the end of the war, Croatia is still rebuilding. The countryside is scarred with the shells of buildings and the remnants of abandoned villages. Vedran Horvat is from the Croatian capital city, Zagreb, which managed to escape the devastation. Before today he'd never visited this war-torn region, and he rarely meets with Serbs. And drinking with a former officer in the Serbian army? Well, this was a first.

The conversation was very lively, to say the least.

As darkness fell, we began to say our good-byes. Three puppies pranced and fought at our feet. Brada, the old Serb major, pointed to the biggest, the one that always begged the most for food and attention. "She is Croat," he laughed.

A cross stands in the ground

Just outside Donji Lapac, a rural town where Serbs and Croats coexist, stands this looming cross alongside a two-lane highway. Photo: Mark Murrmann
Driving home through dark hills, Vedran, who had been quiet, finally spoke. He had known at once that Brada was a soldier, he said, not because of the army jacket, but because of the beard. "Most of them had [a beard] -- it was almost a symbol," he said of the Serb soldiers, who were legendary in tales of wartime horror. "If I had met him 10 years ago, I would probably be dead."

He went on to say that this type of meeting is necessary, part of reconciliation. But if it had been his uncle, a Croatian soldier, who had met Brada, well then who knows how it would have gone. In war, both men had done dreadful things, explained Vedran. "No one is innocent."

The Hymn of a Region

Croatia is roughly the size of North Carolina. Half of the 4.5 million people in this horseshoe-shaped country live in the cities, and many of the rest live in the towns and villages that dot its Mediterranean coast, which stretches 1,000 miles along the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. More than a thousand islands pepper the coastline, 66 of which are inhabited. This coast provides Croatia with its major industry -- tourism -- which brings in more than half of the country's GDP. The coast also provides the country's specialty exports, such as wine and a delectable olive oil that rivals that of neighboring Italy.

Croatia's rebuilding efforts are focused on its bid to join the now 25-nation European Union in 2007. Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who is a conservative, was selected late last year, has turned away from his party's ultra-nationalist past, seeking to align Croatia with a larger Europe. To enter the European Union, Croatia must meet European standards for human rights, including reforming its judicial system, cooperating with the International Criminal Court and facilitating the return of the nearly 300,000 Serb refugees who were forced out of Croatia at the end of the war in 1995.

Vedran, who is my guide and translator, wants to believe that Croatia can overcome old sectarian schisms and move into a peaceful future. But he has his doubts.

One Sunday, while sitting on a plastic bench waiting for a bus on the outskirts of Zagreb, Vedran told me, "Two generations will not change their views." The 27-year-old Croat explained, "You cannot count on anyone older than 40 -- they were all inserted into the war. And I think my generation also has difficulties with that. But maybe this kid in front of us," he said, gesturing to a young girl of no more than 6, "maybe she will be clear [of prejudice]. But I doubt it, because children are educated by their parents, and their parents transfer negative experiences: 'Remember this; Serbs did this; Croats did that.' This is the cliché, the hymn of this region, all the time repeating. Because of that, people do not forget and do not forgive. But no one says it is easy to forgive."

The bus arrived as he finished his thought.

The War in Iraq

The war in Iraq has complicated U.S. relations with Croatia. Last June, former Prime Minister Ivica Racan visited Washington, where President Bush praised Croatia as an ally in the global war against terror. Yet no Croatian soldiers are in Iraq, and this past June Washington chose not to support Croatia's bid to join NATO.

For citizens here, the experience of war and the ravages it brings are too close at hand to justify sending troops to Iraq, particularly because Croatians view it as an unjustified war. "During our history, we have dropped too many bombs outside of Croatia fighting others," said Ante Klaric, the state lawyer in charge of human rights. On the eve of the Iraq war, a poll showed that 72 percent of Croatians opposed sending troops there.

Klaric criticizes the United States' refusal to join the International Criminal Court, a refusal President Bush has reiterated proudly in the recent debates. "All can be criminals except for the United States," said Klaric. "It is not good that the balance of fear in the world is defined by the U.S. and that they alone decide the morals and rules of democracy." As the gap between rich and poor grows wider in the post-Communist world, Klaric warns that an old specter may once again haunt Europe. "Perhaps in 30 or 40 years there will be some kind of communism again."

Klaric's criticism of the United States is echoed throughout Croatia's capital. In a crowded restaurant, one of Zagreb's improbable but popular Mexican joints, full of sombreros and fake cacti, Zeljka Laslavic, a young entrepreneur, puffed on her cigarette, recalling how rudely the U.S. Embassy treated her when she applied for a travel permit. She said that her mother, a schoolteacher, has noticed that Croatian students no longer even want to learn English. "They want to learn anything but English," said Laslavic. "There is such shame at America."

Milorad Pupovac, a Croatian Parliament representative of the Serb minority put it this way: "The problem with United States' policy in the past few years is that they are getting more and more features of a lonely leader."

And Zarko Puhovski, of the local Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, asked, "And if Bush is the leader of the world, why can't I vote for the president of the United States?"

But while Bush bears the brunt of criticism, the upcoming U.S. election does not inspire much hope for change. The Serb soldier Brada, from Novo Selo, found it hard to distinguish between the candidates for president. "From Europe, it is very hard for us to understand the difference between the elephant and the donkey. It seems like the difference between Coke and Pepsi, which isn't much."

A Place in the Woods

My dollar did not stretch far in surprisingly pricey Croatia, the most expensive of the former Communist countries. Increasingly, Croatia is becoming a tourist destination not only for Europeans, but also for Americans looking for an off-the-beaten-path Mediterranean respite. So I found myself jammed into a small, windowless shoebox of a hotel room -- and paying a hundred bucks a night for the pleasure. Vedran, concerned about my spending all my kuna, called his childhood friend, Vanja Malogorski, who had a flat in the forested hills just outside the city.

Vanja became my host. The unemployed, curious Croatian spoke of Croatia as a country full of proud, but disappointed people.

"Croatia is one of the unhappiest nations in the world," he said one evening, pulling on his favorite sweater, a thick cardigan, too short in the arms and waist. He told me it had been his grandfather's. "People here thought things would get better in a short time, that we would be like Switzerland in 10 years. Ah, people are so stupid."

One day we wandered through the forest near his home picking stinging nettles, as many do here, for food. Two of Vanja's neighbors, Thea and Valentina, both 13, came to say hello. They had never met an American. They told me they hate my president. "Why?" I asked. "Because of Iraq," they answered. "What he is doing is cruel."

Mile Cancar

Mile Cancar is the mayor of Korenica, a small village in western Croatia, just near Plitvice Lakes National Park, a lifeblood of revenue for this stark region. Photo: Mark Murrmann
In the countryside, where memories of wartime cruelty may be stronger, people were even more critical of the war in Iraq and of the United States in general. Mile Cancar is the mayor of the rural town of Korenica, home to a national park, a mix of Croats and Serbs, and countless still-active land mines. We met at his office. His neatly pressed red shirt disappeared inside the shoulder pads of his weathered suit jacket. Korernica has a skyrocketing unemployment rate and a desperate need for roads, schools and hospitals. The mayor was busy and had not eaten all day. So he pulled out a bottle of Travarica -- a local brandy -- to settle his stomach. He passed it around.

About the United States he did not mince words, speaking his mind in rapid Croatian and gesturing with his stiff, curled fingers. "The United States demands from other countries what they don't provide in their own. They talk about human rights around the world, but in the U.S. there is discrimination toward black people," said Cancar, who lived in the United States in the late 1980s. "Thanks, but no thanks to American democracy." The corporations, he said, decide who will profit, who will be sanctioned and when war will begin. "They say, 'In God We Trust,' but it's a green god."

A market in Zadar

Located on the Dalmatian coast in southwest Croatia, the city of Zadar linked Serb-occupied Krajina with the Adriatic Sea during the 1991-1995 war. The city was under siege for months, but today is a draw for domestic and international tourists. Photo: Mark Murrmann
Transcending the Past

As I moved throughout Croatia, from the rural mountains dusted in snow in Novo Selo and Korenica to the turquoise waters along the beaches of the coastal city of Zadar, I could never escape the sense of memory and history that pervades this small country. The war in Iraq reminds them of their own recent war. They want no part of it. They know it was a coalition, the United Nations, that helped save their country from Serbian conquest. And they know that even those who fight for liberty, like their own generals now being tried for war crimes, are capable of being, as those two teenaged girls put it, "cruel."

And while the war in Iraq has fueled anger at George W. Bush, I did not feel resentment or hatred directed at me as an American. Croatians rely on American tourism, and they remember how the United States helped them during their war. President Clinton supported Croatia's Operation Storm in which U.N. forces joined the Croatian army to clear Serbs from the Croatian countryside, ending the war in 1995.

Marko "Grasko" Graskovec -- a friend of Vedran's -- explained that he liked and respected Clinton, but "my opinion is not so good of George Bush. Clinton had charisma," he said. "Bush is a cowboy."

In a country where foreign invasion and occupation is a long way from being a distant memory, Bush's belligerent rhetoric and the war in Iraq make Croatians wary. Fiercely independent, they are suspicious of U.S. power and intentions. Yet the Croatians I met with were anxious to move away from their own violent, fractured past. They want to take their place as part of a larger community, the European Union, in which they can move forward and develop their country, peacefully.

Because, as people in this beautiful, complicated country know, war is devastating and everyone involved is responsible.

No one is innocent.

Elizabeth Gettelman is a recent graduate of U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and school of public policy. She is currently an editorial fellow at Mother Jones magazine in San Francisco.

See what people said about "Dispatches from a Small Planet: Election 2004"

back to top


SERBIA: Five Years After the Bombs
by Molly Blank
November 2, 2004

Molly Blank

FRONTLINE/World reporter Molly Blank.
Torn political posters litter the walls here in Belgrade, remnants of Serbia's bitter election campaigns over the past year.

Four years after the ouster of dictator and former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, Serbs are still negotiating their new political reality. In a disturbing trend, Serbia is slipping back into politics and policies that are reminiscent of the Milosevic era.

The ultra-nationalists had a strong showing in parliamentary elections in December 2003, and a leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) was in a runoff for president last June. That is seen as particularly alarming because the official leader of the SRS, Vojislav Seselj, is awaiting trial at The Hague for war crimes. The SRS's platform is a mix of promises to accommodate populist demands -- guaranteeing jobs for all, ending corruption -- and nationalist rhetoric that includes rejection of The Hague Tribunal as anti-Serbian.

Woman walking by a wall of torn posters

Old political posters of Milosevic in his hometown, Pozarevac. Photo: Mark Murrmann
Just last month, Serbia -- officially known as "Serbia and Montenegro" as of February 2003 -- held its first municipal elections since Milosevic was ousted. Although the turnout was disappointingly low, the SRS had a strong showing, forcing runoffs in mayoral races in many cities, including Belgrade. The reformist Democratic Party candidate, Nenad Bogdanovic, ultimately won Belgrade's mayoral election, but in the country's second-largest city, Novi Sad, the SRS candidate prevailed in the mayoral race. In addition, members of the Serbian Socialist Party, the party of Milosevic, won in some 20 municipalities.

The decade-long (1990 to 2000) regime of Milosevic stands out as one of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century. Milosevic's policies of ethnic cleansing and his brutality in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo led to concentration camps, mass graves and the deaths of some 200,000 people. In his own country, there were disappearances, media repression and abuse of the opposition. Many Serbs felt the brutality and corruption of the Milosevic regime firsthand.

Four years before George W. Bush sent troops into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, the United States led an invasion designed to stop Milosevic's extermination of Muslims in Kosovo and to weaken his regime. At the direction of President Clinton, U.S. and NATO forces began bombing Serbian troops and military installations on March 24, 1999. In the beginning, the bombing only strengthened Milosevic's resolve. After the first night, Serbia responded with massive attacks against Albanians in Kosovo.

The NATO bombings focused on military and industrial targets, but, as is often the case in war, strayed onto civilian targets, including a passenger train on a bridge, a market and hospital in the Serbian city of Nis, and the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

Downtown Belgrade at night

Downtown Belgrade at night. Photo: Mark Murrmann
The bombing left scars and lingering hostility toward NATO and the United States, which I encountered during my stay in Serbia.

"The bombing was frightening," said Saveta Markovic, a 68-year-old former economist. "As soon as we heard the sirens, we had to run down to the cellars for hours. We sat in darkness. Sometimes somebody brought a radio so we would could know when it was safe to come out."

Many Serbs are resentful of the bombing, even though it was largely successful in stopping ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. Outside Serbia, in the larger world, many people say the bombing was necessary and successful. But regardless of what Clinton administration officials and others might say, most Serbs I spoke with said the bombing had neither helped Serbia nor weakened Milosevic.

The bombing lasted almost three months. But when the air cleared, there was a massive refugee crisis and Milosevic was still in power. A year and a half later, it was the Serbs' own nonviolent "people's power" movement -- not NATO or the United States -- that led to the ouster of Milosevic on October 5, 2000.

Failing to Win the Peace

For the past year, Saveta has been following the war in Iraq. When she sees images of the war, she remembers her own experiences during the bombing of Serbia. "Every day there is a different terrorist attack in Iraq," she said. "I feel sorry for the people in Iraq who had to go through war and unhappiness. We know what it is like to be under bombardment."

Sasa Markovic, Saveta's nephew, was not in Serbia during the NATO bombing, but he also draws a political comparison with the situation in Iraq. Sasa was my translator and my guide, and we talked for hours as we rode on buses, sat in cafés, and walked through the streets. I tried to understand this haunted country.

"The parallels are very similar even if the reasons for going to war against Serbia and Iraq were not the same," said the 32-year-old journalist. Sasa grew up in London, but returned to his homeland in 2001 to educate himself about his country and to contribute to Serbian society. "Firstly, the alleged reasons for going to war are humanitarian -- to protect others or to defeat a dictator. Then once the initial conflict is completed, there is very little focus on how to win the peace."

Serbian Parliament exterior

On October 5, 2000, hundreds of thousands of people gathered here, at the Serbian Parliament, to demand that Milosevic leave office. Photo: Mark Murrmann
Srdja Popovic is a former member of the Serbian parliament and a leader of the heroic student group Otpor ("resistance"). Otpor, committed to grassroots organizing and nonviolent tactics, led the fight to defeat Milosevic in 2000. Otpor and other pro-democracy groups received funding from U.S. and other foreign sources. Popovic also sees similarities with the situation in Iraq.

"Parallels are focused on the global mistake that peace and human rights as well as democracy can be brought anywhere by using military means. In both cases [Kosovo and Iraq], it actually brought highly ranked, violent societies, with terrorism and crime as the predominant condition," said Popovic.

The assassination of the beloved prime minister Zoran Djindjic in March 2003 was a tragic example of the continuing political violence in Serbia as well as of the power of organized crime. Djindjic, who was a key player in the overthrow of Milosevic, had enemies here because of his pro-Western outlook, his reformist policies and, particularly, his ordering Milosevic's arrest and extradition to The Hague, for which Serbia received financial assistance from the West. The man accused of killing Djindjic is a former commander in Milosevic's special police and affiliated with the Serbian mafia.

Many Serbs whom I met feel they are not getting enough political and financial support from the United States. Sasa sees the same broken promises in Iraq.

"In Iraq, we were told, the coalition was going to depose Saddam and bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people," he said. "It appears that the Iraqi people neither have freedom and at least right now, there will be no democracy either."

Milosevic's Hometown

"God Bless America," said Sasa Lukic, a 21-year-old Belgrade University archaeology student. The sarcastic laugh that accompanied his words sums up his conflicted feelings about the United States. We were in Pozarevac, talking over a cappuccino at Caffé Rustique, a small café reminiscent of a cottage in Tuscany. I came here to Milosevic's hometown to understand why people supported him. But I also found many who despise Milosevic, including Lukic.

Here in Pozarevac, café culture rules, and the din of conversation and laughter echoed around the bar. "It is unbelievable that the [American] president doesn't know essential stuff about other countries," Lukic said, incredulous. "I can't believe people in America follow him."

American writers like Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs attract Lukic. What he sees as American megalomania and ignorance of the world repels him. "It seems like people in America don't know where the Balkans are and what is happening here," said Lukic's girlfriend, Kristina Penezic, who is also a student.

Serbia is a place where people have a deep love of history, but many are cynical and frustrated about their futures. As have many small towns in Serbia in recent years, Pozarevac has suffered. For many, transition to a peacetime economy has meant not opportunity, but the loss of jobs. Four years after the defeat of Milosevic, years of armed conflict and international isolation has taken its toll throughout the country. According to the independent Serbian news agency B92, a survey conducted by the Factor Plus Agency showed that Serbian citizens fear poverty, loss of jobs and crime.

Many Serbs, especially in Milosevic's hometown, resent the United States and Europe for trying to impose Western-style democracy.

Men in cafe

Vojkan Stevanovic (left) and Ivan Nestorovic (right) talk politics at Caffe Rustique in Pozarevac. Photo: Mark Murrmann
"It is rich when America lectures Serbs about democracy when they are cheating in their own system," said Vojkan Stevanovic, a waiter and bartender at Caffé Rustique. Stevanovic speaks quickly, his eyes flashing. "My father used to talk about how great America was. He left the Communist Party in the late '70s. ... [He] admired American democracy. I am emotionally attached to America because of movies and the music I listen to. My dream was always to go to America and see how people live and get a taste of what people are like, but sadly, after what has happened here in the last 10 to 15 years, my dream won't be realized."

One morning, I sat down with Stevanovic over more cappuccinos. While he smoked his Lucky Strikes, he told me about the day Milosevic was removed from power. "I was there on October 5," he said. "I felt great for days and days after, just thinking back, because of all the horrible things I had been through in the past few years."

I expected that also meant that he supported Milosevic's trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. But although Stevanovic is emphatic that Milosevic should be tried and punished, he believes the trial should be here in Serbia, rather than at an international court.

Ivan Nestorovic, 28, a friend of Stevanovic, is a former Milosevic supporter and a leader in the Pozarevac branch of the Yugoslav Left Party led by Milosevic's wife. Nestorovic is disillusioned with politics today and no longer supports Milosevic, but he opposed the October revolution.

"I don't know what to think of Milosevic today," said Nestorovic. He paused, then continued more intensely. "From what I've seen at the trial, I congratulate him because he has managed to discredit every witness. ... Why The Hague? It is like Nuremberg, just the same. It is ridiculous to have your country's problems solved in other countries which don't actually have a connection with your country. But that's the law of the strong."

Pozarevac is still a nationalist stronghold, but although Nestorovic's opinion may be common here, he is a minority within the entire country. The vast majority of Serbs feel that that Milosevic should be tried for war crimes, even though some wish the trial was being conducted in Serbia. Some who supported Milosevic's extradition to The Hague hoped that it would guarantee more international support for Serbia.

"The Serbs feel let down by the United States," said my translator, Sasa. "They felt that after they deposed Slobodan Milosevic and sent him to The Hague that the United States would be more inclined to support [Serbia] throughout the region. At the very least they hoped that Serbs in Kosovo would be protected and [that Serbia would] receive more support in joining international institutions. Instead most U.S. and international comment about Serbia is to berate it about its [lack of] cooperation with The Hague Tribunal. Some of this is deserved, but it's important to use the carrot and the stick."

A short bus ride south took me from Pozarevac into the outlying villages. The sky was gray, and there were few people on the streets. The village of Malo Crnice is small, with one café and one market, but there are local offices for most major political parties. This is the hometown of Milosevic's notorious wife, Mira Markovic, former leader of the Yugoslav Left Party. Many say that Mira was really the one in charge. The BBC has referred to her as "the Lady Macbeth of Belgrade."

In Malo Crnice, views of the United States are colored by the NATO bombing, their fears about the future of Serbs in Kosovo and their sense of Western hypocrisy. "Serbia is a democracy as much as the U.S. is a democracy," insisted an old man, whose hands were worn from farming.. He stood with his friends outside the only store in the village. Like many others, he is tired of being judged by the West. "Bush is a dog," he said with a laugh.

It Comes Down to Kosovo

Serbs have deep ties to the Kosovo province, where Milosevic conducted much of his ethnic cleansing against Muslim Albanians. Still technically a part of "Serbia and Montenegro," Kosovo is an autonomous province, currently under UN administration. Kosovo has a significant Serbian minority. One has only to spend time here to understand how attached Serbs are to Kosovo. Many people I talked with said that Kosovo is a part of them and that they find the idea of an independent Kosovo unfathomable. If Kosovo does gain independence, people worry about what will happen to the Serbian minority that remains there.

Mosque that was set on fire

This 17th century mosque was set on fire during protests in Belgrade after attacks on Serbs in Kosovo in March 2004. Photo: Mark Murrmann
Anti-Serb riots in Kosovo in March 2004, in which 19 Serbs were killed, more than 900 Serbs were injured and 29 Serbian Orthodox churches were burned, caused added concern. There are more than 19,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo -- NATO troops and U.N. police -- yet they failed to avert the rioting. It was proof to many here that NATO and the United States have reneged on their promise to support a multiethnic Kosovo.

In late September 2004, in protest, Serbs in Kosovo boycotted parliamentary elections, taking a cue from Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica. The United Nations had hoped that Serbian participation in the election would set the stage for negotiations next year on the future of Kosovo.

"Kosovo isn't half as important as it used to be in the Serbian psyche," argued Sasa, "but this is what the U.S. election means to Serbia. A Kerry victory will certainly mean an independent Kosovo, perhaps without any regard to minorities living in Kosovo that have suffered since NATO's victory. A Bush victory is also likely to lead to an independent Kosovo, but perhaps with a more cautious approach that might lead to an improved standard of living for minorities there."

"In a way, I prefer Bush," said Bojan Stojevic, a farmer in Pozarevac and a former leader in the local branch of Milosevic's party. "His foreign policy on Serbia is better." Stojevic, as well as other people and politicians I talked to, fears that Richard Holbrooke and Wesley Clark will be key players in a new Democratic administration, one of them maybe even Secretary of State. Holbrooke, who was the Assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, negotiated with Milosevic before the bombings, and he is viewed here as being pro-Albanian. Clark was NATO's Supreme Allied Commander from 1997 to 2000.

But despite concerns about a Kerry presidency, Serbs remain skeptical about President Bush.

"I worry whether President Bush is making the right policies around the world," said Saveta Markovic, my translator's aunt. "I know that the American people are not to blame for the United States policy. I hope that whoever wins the elections in the U.S. will help Serbia in some way. But we in Serbia must take responsibility for our own future and cannot expect much help from the United States."

Molly Blank is a recent graduate of U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. She will be leaving for South Africa in December on a Fulbright fellowship.

See what people said about "Dispatches from a Small Planet: Election 2004"

back to top


Go to Intro: Dispatches from a Small Planet: Election 2004

Sign up for the FRONTLINE/World newsletter foran email alert each time a new dispatch is posted.



back to top