|CLOSE TO HOME|
April 2, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Now, two reports on how very close to home Balkans War
is for some Americans. The first is from Elizabeth Brackett in Chicago.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Prayers, not protest, brought Serbian-Americans
from around the country to downtown Chicago today.
And we know what it is to experience pain. Unfortunately, we are here
again with the same prayer: to stop the killing, to stop the not only
of the Serbian people, but of the Albanians.
|The service brought some comfort.|
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The service brought some comfort to Dejan, a 32-year-old Serbian-American who did not want his last name used. When Dejan is not working as a manager in a small French neighborhood restaurant, he spends long hours on the computer trying to stay in touch with his mother, father, and brother in the small town of Lavaratz, about 40 miles southeast of Belgrade.
DEJAN: These are the messages I did receive on a regular basis from my family, particularly from my brother every six, seven hours. At night, they turn the lights off. They go to the shelters, and he's heard explosions. He basically can see the rockets flying through the sky and seeing those missiles. And the last message I did receive was on the 25th of March. After that, everything just stopped.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Unable to reach his family through e-mail or by phone for the last week, Dejan logged on to as many Serbian Web sites as he could find.
DEJAN: This is the city of Krajelva, which has one of the military airports. They have hit the airport really heavily as you can see the pictures right here. Besides the airport, the civilian areas have been hit heavily as well. And you can see the shelters right here with the people and the kids.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Finally, yesterday, Dejan got through to his family on their cell phone.
DEJAN: Mama? (Speaking Serbian) I got through. I'm very, very excited that I can hear the voice at least. I got this pressure build-up myself, just a little bit out of it.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What did she say to you?
DEJAN: Well, she basically said, hey, we're okay; you've got nothing to worry about. We're happy. We're here, we're at home. We don't go to shelters. They don't even pay attention to the bombing. They said we just do what we have to do, and we just are trying to have a life.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Dejan says his family was strongly anti-Milosevic before the bombing began.
DEJAN: They are absolutely against Milosevic, including myself. But this actually brought entire opposition, entire nation together. And this is a state of the war, and people understand they have to be together.
|Calls back home.|
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Serbian-American Mira Atlagic works as a dental assistant with her husband. She was near tears when she reached her aunt in a small village south of Belgrade. Yet the news she heard was good.
MIRA ATLAGIC: She's okay right now. She said they didn't bomb today. I don't know, it's scary, the bombing, and I just hope that they're all going to stay alive.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Her office mate, orthopedic surgeon Slobodan Vucicevic, got a very different reading from his calls back home to Serbia.
SLOBODAN VUCICEVIC: See, it can't go through.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Unable to get through to anyone in his family when we were with him, he told us what he had been hearing in earlier calls.
SLOBODAN VUCICEVIC: Why American boys and girls should be there killing someone or be killed, for who?
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: That's what you're saying. Is that what they're saying to you?
SLOBODAN VUCICEVIC: That's what I'm saying. Exactly. They're saying to us too. Please, people, can you talk to someone. Can you tell them to stop their killing? They are killing innocent people.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Vuvicevic was particularly incensed by what he had heard yesterday about bombs that had decimated a factory in his hometown of Cacak.
SLOBODAN VUCICEVIC: There's a factory, so-called Sloboda; the factory was making, you know, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, you know, stoves, you know, home appliances. They hit it three times so far. What kind of barbarians? Five thousand people working there. Five thousand people don't have jobs tomorrow. Five thousand families will go hungry for how long? Are they thirsty for Serbian blood?
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Vucicevic, too, has always been anti-Milosevic.
SLOBODAN VUCICEVIC: He's a bad guy, no question about it, as far as overall picture. But you are killing Serbian kids, Serbian houses are being destroyed. Yesterday you destroyed the biggest bridge on the River Danube. Old people are frantic over there; they destroy water supply to whole portion of city because that old bridge has huge pipe line for the water that was tore down; now they don't have water.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: For these three Serbian-Americans, calls back home brought very different messages. Does your mother sound scared, sound afraid?
DEJAN: No. I have a feeling they just are willing to go all the way.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Did she sound scared?
MIRA ATLAGIC: Yes, she's scared.
SLOBODAN VUCICEVIC: People are in despair. All outcries are the same way: "Why are they doing that to us?"
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The despair was felt in downtown Chicago as well.
|The Kosovars' first stop is New York City.|
JIM LEHRER: The second report is from Charles Krause in New York.
CHARLES KRAUSE: There are an estimated half a million ethnic Albanians in the United States, most of them first-generation immigrants from Kosovo. Traditionally, the Kosovars' first stop is New York City. And today, along Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, there's almost no one who doesn't have a mother, father, sister, or brother caught in the conflict. Interest is intense. There's always the hope of catching a glimpse of a loved one still alive. But far more often this week, those hopes have been smashed as news of the atrocities in Kosovo reach New York. Danny Gashi, for example, learned this week that his father in Kosovo had been executed.
DANNY GASHI: Father was old man, was 79 years old. And he just decided to stay. He just -- four days before I was lucky to get through to him on the phone. And I had a feeling that this thing is going to happen, happen bad. And I tried to talk to him, but he just -- he couldn't -- couldn't listen. And, you know, I knew what he was about. I knew that his decision was to stay. And I tried to talk but I start to choke in my grief. And so he said I'll make it easy for you, my son. I am going to talk. This is going to be last time because I am old. I am not going to go through what I have been in 1941. He has been in camp, concentration camp. He say, "I have no strength to go through. I know what they are going to do to us. They are going to separate us like cattle. And I have seen that in '41, then three and a half years in camps. I have no strength to stay to do that. So this is going to be our last conversation." And it was the last, indeed.
|Reports like these.|
TEUTA SELIMI: My aunt answered the phone and a person in Serbian, a Serbian probably, told her "Get ready. I'm coming to rape you and your daughter." And she hung up. She was, you know, terrified. And then after ten minutes, they received another phone call, probably by the same person, her husband answered the phone and they told him, "Get ready, we are coming to slaughter you and your family."
CHARLES KRAUSE: Teuta Selimi, whose family lived until this week in Pristina, confirmed reports that Serb forces are now cleansing Albanians from Kosovo's capital.
TEUTA SELIMI: My relatives told me that all the houses in the area which is behind the headquarters of the police that was bombed a few days ago, are damaged. And they are ordering civilians to leave apartments which are in the neighborhood near the police headquarters and was bombed, to leave the houses or they will get killed because they want to station their personnel in there in the, you know, the apartments around there. They say that they are taking away men, putting them in a stadium in Pristina, the soccer stadium.
CHARLES KRAUSE: It's reports like this these that have convinced a growing number of Albanians in the United States that something more must be done quickly. Otherwise, they fear Serbian President Milosevic is going to achieve his objectives in Kosovo. Isuf Hazrizi is managing editor of the Albanian American Newspaper Illyria.
CHARLES KRAUSE: This week your paper editorialized in favor of sending in ground troops and arming the KLA. Why?
ISUF HAZRIZI: Because air strikes will never finish the job. Air strikes will -- NATO can never claim victory in my opinion, to say that yes, we reached our objective. What was the objective? To reduce his power to create -- make war. Well, that's not really the problem here. The problem here is that this man has been doing ethnic cleansing the last almost ten years and the problem here is Milosevic. If you leave this guy still in power, then the question arises, should we have made the deal with Hitler as well? We're faced with this. And if your answer is yes, then we're doomed. But if your answer is no, then you have to put in ground troops. As far as the KLA, they are on the ground. They are there. They know the terrain. They are willing to die for this. So why not arm them? Why not use them as a way to help you out?
|When they get where they were going.|
CHARLES KRAUSE: On Wednesday, those views were communicated directly to President Clinton by a group of prominent Albanian-Americans. Among them was real estate executive Harry Bajraktari, who was at the White House meeting.
HARRY BAJRAKTARI: The President assured us that the bombing campaign will continue, and is going to intensify. And the President stated to us that he said together, we have to win this war.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Did you ask the President about ground troops?
HARRY BAJRAKTARI: Yes. My opinion is I left with the President committed to winning this war. I left with a commitment that I feel that the President will do whatever it takes to win this war. And I -- my notion is that ground troops will be sent in the next -- near future.
SPOKESMAN: The time has come to send in the troops!
GROUP: (shouting) Yeah!
GROUP CHANTING: Send in the troops! Send in the troops!
CHARLES KRAUSE: At the same time that Bajraktari was meeting with the President, thousands of Kosovars and their supporters were demonstrating outside the White House. Grateful for what the United States and NATO have done so far, they are, nonetheless, increasingly fearful that without troops on the ground, it will not be enough to save their people and their homeland.