Voice from the Balkans speaks out against this war

People hope they aren't the next NATO 'mistake'

THE OPPOSITION to Milosevic, on the streets here in 1996, has been weakened by NATOs bombing

VIOLETA KRASNIC is a native of Serbia who is attending Columbia University in New York. She has relatives on both sides of the war-among Serbians targeted by the NATO bombs and among the Kosovan Albanians fleeing Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. She has taken a stand against NATO's war. In Serbia she was active in non-governmental organisations which opposed Milosevic's regime. She is now a leading member of the US group Columbia Students Against The War. She recently talked to Socialist Worker's sister organisation in the US, the International Socialists, about the nightmare of the war in the Balkans.

WHAT IS life like in Yugoslavia now?

IT'S BEEN 21 days since the attack began in Serbia and people go through many emotions-fear, hope, rage, but unfortunately also nationalism, sexism and different types of violence. It's gloomy. People don't have access to information, only the official media run by the government which talks about aggression and destruction. Although it's understandable because this country is under attack, this nationalism only promotes hatred. The "military targets" that NATO talks about aren't military targets. And there were some "mistakes". People hope that they aren't the next "mistake".

Right now there are 700,000 Kosovan Albanians who are internally displaced or in refuge. I don't know anything about the Albanian side of my family. Even if they managed to cross the border, I don't know where they are. The official statement from the government is that the Serbian army is fighting terrorists from the Kosovo Liberation army, the KLA. But we also know that there are always civilian casualties-both when the Serbian army attacks and when the KLA attacks. It's about basic survival right now-survival with the hope they will stay alive.

Another part of my family is in Macedonia. They aren't doing very well and pretty soon they will lack money and then food. The Serbian side of my family is partly in Belgrade and in towns north of Kosovo. Of course their life is far from normal. Wherever you live is going to be near a railroad or a bridge or a factory-that is, things which can be military targets. I fear for my male friends because of the war mobilisation. They have been drafted and called to go to their units. They always opposed violence and now they don't want to go to war to kill anyone. But they feel pressured and threatened and obligated.

Kosovo's capital city of Pristina is destroyed. The shops are looted and very few Albanians remain. My friend said that during the night all you can hear are bombings, shootings and missiles-and during the day military forces in blue, green and black uniforms patrol the streets. Everything that's the basis for a normal life or hopes for the future is destroyed.

ARE THE ethnic divisions impossible to overcome or as severe as the West puts it?

RIGHT NOW the hatred is huge. But both Serbs and Albanians want to stay and live in Kosovo. I hope that this situation can be overcome. Even under the bombs there have been signs of unity. My friend in Pristina lives in a building with both Serbs and Albanians. In this building Serbs and Albanians formed night guards and agreed to protect each other. If the Serbian police come to take Albanians, the Serbs defend them. If the KLA comes to take Serbs, the Albanians protect them. But this is deteriorating, because if a missile hits this building, this small hope will be destroyed.

HOW WERE things under Milosevic?

EVEN BEFORE the bombings things weren't good. The economy was in really bad shape partly because of United Nations sanctions and because of the way things were managed by the government. There was no free media, only in parts of Belgrade. But this has been banned since October. There were restrictive laws and many university professors were expelled or forced to leave.

The idea that the NATO attack will weaken Milosevic or bring him to the negotiating table is a myth. It strengthens him along with all the nationalist forces over there. For example, in the city of Nic the opposition was in power. People had voted against Milosevic for democracy like in the West. But now that the West is bombing them, people are saying that these aren't the values they would like to follow. A prominent opposition journalist was killed in early April. Everyone who dares to speak out is silenced now.

I was part of the non-governmental organisation opposition. I didn't support those in opposition who were playing the same game as Milosevic, just trying to get power. They didn't care about Albanians or Serbs. But there were voices who talked about the situation in Kosovo and who wanted some initiatives to improve and solve it for the benefit of the people there. Those voices have been silenced as much by the bombing as by Milosevic's regime.

WHAT ARE the conditions like for the Kosovan Albanians?

THE SERBIAN regime violated human rights in Kosovo for a long time since 1989 when autonomy was taken away. Albanians didn't have the right to education in their own language and they were expelled from their jobs. During the 1990s the self elected Albanian government adopted non-violent means of opposing the oppression and non-governmental organisations were documenting abuses, human rights violations and destruction of their property. Last year, when the KLA appeared as an armed force for the Albanian struggle, the Serbian military and army forces got involved in actions against 'terrorists'.

At the same time, in my opinion, the KLA represents an armed element with an ultra-nationalist agenda which differs from Serbian forces just in the sense that they lack the means to do the very same thing-ethnic cleansing. Rambouillet failed because it was structured so that it could not be accepted by the Serbian side. When you look into the agreement it imposed huge obligations on the Serbian side, unacceptable things such as foreign troops on civilian territory.

Kosovan peace must be supported by Serbs and Albanians everywhere The solution will be a huge effort, an international effort where grass roots and local groups decide.