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“They lined up the men and shot them in front of us,” explained Fata
Dzeko, one of my students from Bosnia. She told our class last Tuesday
that what we were watching on TV is what happened to her on July 4,
1992.

“They came for us at four in the morning,” she said. “We lived in
Gacko, where my father was born, in southern Bosnia. We saw the first
trouble a few months earlier, with the Serbs bombing small Muslim
villages, but we didn’t expect it in our town. That night, five or six
Serbian soldiers came to our door. They had a truck and told us they
were taking us to Turkey because we were Muslims. We really didn’t know
what would happen. We weren’t allowed to take anything.”

Along with her family — her mother, father, two sisters and a
brother — Fata explained that she was taken to the center of town. “I
was 14 at the time, my brother was 21 and my sisters were 17 and 19. We
were put in the street in front of a hotel and kept there for several
hours. The Serbian
soldiers were getting drunk and drugged up and wanted to take the women
into the hotel. One of their officers stopped them because he said it
would not look good if the women were raped.”

Only the women and children were permitted to escape, she said, along
with men who could pay $500. “The buses were loaded first with women and
children. My parents, fortunately, had the $1,000 to pay for my father
and brother, a lot of money in Gacko. My mother was a housekeeper in
office buildings and my father was a factory worker. While our buses
were still there, the men who could not pay were put in a line and shot
in front of us, some of them in their 70s and 80s.”

Nine days later, the buses arrived in Macedonia. “Part of the time we
lived in the woods. For two months, I stayed with a Turkish family. I
was then in a refugee camp in Hungary for two and a half years, at an
old Russian army base, staying 30 to a room. It was there that I met
Bonnie Hall, an American volunteer, and she made arrangements for me to
go to New York City and stay with my host family, Sheila and John Platt.
Today, five of us from Bosnia are at Robert Morris College. We all had
good grades and received assistance from scholarships.”

And after college? “I can’t go back. There’s nothing for me there.
The economy is bad. Under Tito, it wasn’t a Third World country. Now it
is. After this, there is no way we are going to have ethnic harmony, no
way we can trust each other. The army that came to our town that night
was from Serbia. They did not know which families were Muslim. Only the
people who lived there
knew, our close neighbors. They turned us in. With husbands and wives
and children killed, how are you able to live again with those who did
it? It won’t be possible. It will work only if everyone lives in their
own country. With Kosovo, it must be independent. Kosovo’s population is
90 percent ethnic Albanians and it is too small to partition, like
dividing Pittsburgh in half.”

Today, Fata’s parents and brother are in western Bosnia. “The 51
percent that became independent Bosnia,” she says. “Gacko is now in the
49 percent of Bosnia that was given to Milosevic. That was a good deal
for him. They tried to bring out the peacemaker in him but he is not up
to it. He acts like Hitler II. My mother went once to see our house but
everything has changed, she said, even the glass in the windows. Two
Serbian families now live in our house. My one sister is living in
Canada and the other in Denmark. I will live in New York City. There is
a big community of Bosnian refugees in Queens.”

The tragedy of the Balkans, of course, is that the Serbs have the
same stories, from yesterday and from 600 years ago. Several days before
the NATO airstrikes began, for instance, the international war crimes
tribunal in The Hague reported on the atrocities — the summary
executions, massive ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate shelling of
civilian populations, all with the
tacit blessing of the United States — committed by the Croatian Army
against the Croatian Serbs in 1995. In the Krajina region alone, an
estimated 300,000 Serbs were uprooted. The aged and infirm who couldn’t
move were shot. Some six centuries earlier, it was the battle in Kosovo
at the Field of the Blackbirds, a consummate loss in nationalist eyes,
which plunged Christian Serbs into nearly 500 years of subservience to
the Muslim Turks.

As the aerial bombardment of Serbia began, NATO Secretary-General
Javier Solana stated the mission: “We are going to continue the bombing
until we can guarantee that the killings stop and will not restart.” The
bombing, of course, only accelerated the killings and ethnic cleansing
to monstrous proportions, along with making it more likely that it will
“restart” in future generations.

Bill Clinton, 30 years ago, saw the madness in the rationalization
for the destruction of Hue in Vietnam: “We had to destroy the city to
save it.” Today, he seems less troubled by dubious missions and more
interested in leaving office known for something better than perjury,
obstruction and his reckless and self-indulgent shenanigans with Monica
Lewinsky.


Ralph R. Reiland is Associate Professor of Economics at Robert Morris
College in Pittsburgh. His e-mail address is: rrreiland@aol.com

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