October 11 , 2000
GWEN IFILL: Now, the revolution in Yugoslavia as seen by a group of Serbian Americans in Chicago. Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW reports.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Chicago's Serbs filled the pews in Serbian orthodox churches, gathered in the many Serbian restaurants, and sat in their living rooms glued to the images flickering across their television screens as the Milosevic regime in Serbia collapsed. Father Dennis Pavichevich says the overall reaction was one of joy.
REV. DENNIS PAVICHEVICH: The first response, very spontaneous, was thank God, finally after 56 years of communistic tyranny and oppression of Yugoslavia, of the Serbian people, and of all the other people in Yugoslavia, now the Communist Party and its leader in the person of Milosevic fell. I rang the church bell for one hour; people were phoning, people were in tears. They were happy; hearts were on high.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Chicago is home to the largest Serbian community in the United States; more Serbs live here than anywhere outside of Belgrade. As Lawyer Robert Paddock stood in Church on Sunday, he thought back to two weeks earlier, when he had been in Belgrade for the national election.
ROBERT PADDOCK: An election that no one knew how it would turn out. By the next day, the people realized what they had done. They surprised themselves. There was a sense of awe, a sense of wonder at what they had accomplished.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Many of the Chicago Serbs who were overjoyed with Milosevic's ouster had been protesting the NATO bombing of Serbia last year. The bombs began dropping after Serbian troops were accused of using ethnic cleansing to drive ethnic Albanians from the province of Kosovo, though most Chicago Serbs agree with rally organizer Anna Grubnic that it was not the bombing that had hastened Milosevic's defeat.
ANNA GRUBNIC: The bombing campaign probably kept Milosevic in power and kept more people loyal to him than would have happened. I think it's very disingenuous and arrogant of anyone to even try and make an association between that bombing campaign and the events of the past few days. That bombing campaign did nothing other than to kill people, to starve people, and to destroy the economic and urban infrastructure of that country.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Slobodan Vucicivic has spent many hours on the phone with leaders of the anti-Milosevic forces.
DR. SLOBODAN VUCICEVIC: I think now house cleaning is underway, and my concern is that some people around Kortunic, some people who had very dirty hands in Communist affairs, you know, for many, many, many years don't belong there. For our own souls, Serbian soul has to be purified, I mean, we can't clean it up unless you open it and let fresh air come in.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The quickest way to let the fresh air in, say the Chicago Serbs, is to let Serbs and not the international community decide the fate of Milosevic and his supporters. Desko Nikitovic fled Yugoslavia nine years ago, after being persecuted by the Milosevic regime. He too is in daily contact with the united opposition leadership. Nikitovic is pushing the new Kostunica government to have Milosevic tried in Serbia.
DESKO NIKITOVIC: I think Milosevic should be tried in Serbia and he has to be accountable to Serbs. He did a lot of bad things; he did destroy to say, Serbian name for now. Right now Serb opposition announced and the Serbs tried to vote to demand the creation of a Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. I think this Commission should be formed in a form like the commission in South Africa that has been pretty successful.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Milosevic has been indicted for war crimes by the International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, though no Chicago Serbs thought Milosevic should be turned over to the tribunal by Kostunica.
ROBERT PAVICH: He has some very basic and fundamental questions about whether it would be right under the circumstances to simply turn Mr. Milosevic over to the Hague, which is perceived, and the Serbian people, at least, have perceived, as a political creation. And at the indictment itself, which was brought out in the midst of a war, was a political indictment.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: If Kostunica chose to send Milosovic to the Hague, to turn him over to the Hague, tell me what the political implications of that would be.
DR. SLOBODAN VUCICEVIC: Political implications are going to be that he is, so to speak, you know, becoming a stooge of the West. That is what he is going to be. And if he does that, then he is pretty much finished among the common Serbian folk.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Chicago is also home to a large Albanian community, including hundreds of recent refugees from Kosovo. The community was very vocal both before and during the war. But since Kostunica became president, Albanians here have been reluctant to talk, preferring instead to take a wait and see attitude toward the new regime.
ROBERT PAVICH: It was impossible to resolve Kosovo while there was no legitimate government in Belgrade. Now that there's a legitimate government that can work out a political structure that would be fair to all the people and with the goal toward developing a multi-ethnic democratic Kosovo.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Reporter: The revolution in the streets of Belgrade has brought a change in the way Serbs are viewed, particularly in the media, say the Chicago Serbs.
REV. DENNIS PAVICHEVICH: It's changed its tune from being war mongers, rapists, demonized in the worst way through the media, both on television and in the newspapers. All of a sudden the Serbian people are freedom lovers, heroes, courageous, bringing down the Communist power and domination. And all of a sudden we went from rags to riches; we went from rats to angels.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Chicago Serbs like the change in perception, though they like the new government in the Yugoslav republic even more.