American Friends Service Committee
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Milica Koscica, a Serb who grew up in Yugoslavia, wrote this paper as a student in the class "The Politics of Peace" taught by Colman McCarthy at American University, spring 2004. She now works for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Washington, DC.
In the Balkans, no rational explanation for war exists, nor is it expected -- it is genetic. I say that it is genetic because it feels as if the moment you are born, you already know the enemy. This enemy is hated with a hate that is 600 years old. It is deep, and it runs through the veins. Again, it is not rational, it is emotional, and once it reaches this level it becomes personal within each individual. It is a collective history, a collective memory, a collective hate and fear. This is what I am up against.
I come from a country, from an idea, that no longer exists. As a child growing up under the last remnants of the communist regime in Yugoslavia, I was educated to respect every person in the country, and so I never saw the difference in nationality between my friends. Or if I did see it, I was not bothered by it. I was brought up to believe that all the people of Yugoslavia are "brothers and sisters."
As a child, the war to me was not about Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, nor was it about nationalism and pride; it was about death. It was about my neighbors being called into the army and going off to fight. I did not understand what the fight was about, and as a child, the only thing I could do was raise my head and look to the adults for guidance. Their minds were made up: "A Greater Serbia is our right, our destiny. The Serbs have waited too long to regain what was once ours." I still did not understand it, and to this day, I am considered naïve and foolish for thinking that Yugoslavia was ever a real entity. So in a sense, I come from a place that never really existed. It was an illusion, a break with the usual pattern in history full of warfare, bloodshed, honor, and religion.
My pain is threefold. First, I am seen as a traitor to my friends and family for leaving Yugoslavia during the war and wanting to break with the tradition of hate and fear. Second, I am seen as a traitor here in the United States because I did not want Yugoslavia to be bombed by NATO. Lastly, I am a traitor to my own beliefs because I have not been able to stand up for myself and defend what I think is right. I am torn and pulled in a million different directions, and each step I take seems to land on top of someone else's toes. It has not been easy, and the feelings of confusion, guilt, and betrayal are emotions I deal with on a daily basis.
To this day, I miss Yugoslavia, my home and my streets, my music and my food, my people and my language, and my sun that shone only for us. I fight to keep the images, the smells, and the feelings from fading away. However, even though I feel that I share the pain of my people, and even though I drop to my knees in tears whenever I hear a good song on one of my old cassette tapes, to my people I am a deserter, a spy, a coward, and a traitor for leaving Yugoslavia. I remember the last phone conversation I had with a friend when he told me that he believed that if I knew how to fly airplanes, I would probably be the one dropping the bombs over Belgrade. I was stunned. What was I being accused of? What did they expect from me? Was I guilty?
My heart is bleeding. How am I to fix the war that the adults created? But I cannot help but wish for a better future where no killing is necessary. I constantly question my loyalty, and my insecurities run deep. What right do I have to claim to be part of the Serbian culture if I disagree with it? Whose side do I belong to?
On the other end of the spectrum, in America I am accused of being "too soft on war crime" because I was against the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. I understand international law, and I understood the situation of genocide in Kosovo, and with all my might I believe in taking responsibility for one's actions. But despite my rational thoughts, I simply did not want my country and my people to be bombed. These are feelings and beliefs that I would not be able to defend logically in court, but I stand by them because I would simply become a monster in my own eyes if I gave in to NATO. Ironically, I am seen as a monster in the eyes of many of my American colleagues because they see me as condoning genocide. I am a sinner either way: one sin is against humanity, and the other sin is against my people.
Yet whether Americans believe it or not, I do disagree with the killing, the ethnic cleansing, and the hate. I recently learned that my own church back in Serbia was helping collect money for the heinous paramilitary groups by organizing bake sales. My own church in my small town! I feel ashamed, humiliated, and confused. Sometimes, I even want to deny it all -- it is hard to accept the idea that you are partly responsible for genocide. For these reasons, I am too afraid to speak up and defend what I know is right. I fear being further ostracized by my own culture. That is why it is so difficult to make progress in a post-conflict country. I am the prime example because I do not hate anyone, yet I am helping to sustain the situation as it is right now.
I am a casualty of war. No broken bones, only
a shattered reality, and confusion and doubt that runs to the
core of me. I suppose being torn is part of growing up, and that
these feelings of confusion and lost innocence were bound to catch
up with me sooner or later. However, despite all the negativity
I have experienced from all sides, in the end I am still sure
that killing is wrong and war is wrong. I pledge my allegiance
to the future.