Serbs, Croats meet but resolve little

February 21, 1993|By JAMES BOCK | JAMES BOCK,Staff Writer

Momcilo Cvijanovic and Joe Kerekovic should have much in common.

Both are middle-aged immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Both speak Serbo-Croatian. Both are engineers.

But Mr. Cvijanovic was born a Serb and Mr. Kerekovic a Croat, and in the past two years of civil war in their former homeland, that has made the two men very different.

Yesterday, the two engineers were in Baltimore for a Slavic-American forum convened by the Rev. Ivan Dornic on how to help end the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

It didn't take long for the ancient enmities and passions of the Balkans to surface around a table in a hotel near the Inner Harbor.

Mr. Kerekovic, who lives in suburban Philadelphia, accused the Serbs of being "a dominant race."

"That's all they want," he said. "They want to re-create the medieval Serbian empire."

"If we were dominant," replied Alexander Radichevich, a Serbian-American from College Park, "I would have a full bucket of money. But the highest per capita income in Yugoslavia was in Croatia and Slovenia."

Mr. Kerekovic jumped right in. "I will tell you why," he said. "Slovenes and Croats work. Serbs are warriors."

"I went to the National Cathedral to pray for a solution," said Mr. Cvijanovic, of Manassas, Va. "I did not come here for a bashing."

"Maybe you should also pray that Serbia stop the killing in Bosnia," Mr. Kerekovic snapped. "They killed 150,000 in Bosnia."

"I lost seven nephews and two cousins in two years," Mr. Cvijanovic said. "You can't be hurt more than I

am."

Father Dornic, born in Czechoslovakia and pastor of St. Mary's Assumption Eastern Rite Catholic Church in Joppa, sat back resignedly and listened.

"It's exactly what I expected -- a good exchange of ideas," he said later with a little smile.

He had tried to defuse the tension by inviting Vladimir Hromis, an ethnic Ukrainian judge who had fled Croatia, to speak to the group of about 20 people. Mr. Hromis described the tiny Ukrainian minority's frustrated efforts to stay neutral in the civil war.

But the Serbs and Croats at the table gave no quarter.

Larissa Fontana, a Ukrainian-American activist from Washington, feared that strife in the Balkans would spill over into neighboring countries.

"We can't go over these things year after year, generation after generation. We are teaching our children the language of hate," she said.

Mr. Cvijanovic, the Serbian member of the Eastern Orthodox faith, said his brother and sister married Catholics and his father was godfather to Muslims.

"I was totally shocked. I never could dream this could happen," he said.

Mr. Kerekovic, the Croatian Roman Catholic, said his siblings had married a Serb, a Slovene and a Montenegrin.

"We had many Serbian friends until two years ago. Then contact stopped," he said. "I felt hurt my Serbian friends didn't find it necessary to call and say they didn't approve of what was going on.

"Only one girl said, 'I feel I should wear a crown of thorns as long as I live for all the atrocities the Serbs have committed.' I cried when I heard that," the Croat-American said.

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