Serbian atrocities, American guilt

George Mitrovich

August 30, 1993|By George Mitrovich

THE WAR in the Balkans roars on. The bodies pile higher and higher. The hospitals have no room for the wounded. The screams of the innocent pierce the day and haunt the night.

In the capitals of Europe, in the capital of our own nation, shamefully posturing politicians, devoid of any moral center, lacking the will to act, pray that their duplicity escapes us.

It does not.

But political posturing and hypocrisy are not new. What is new and terribly different about the war in the former Yugoslavia is the abject failure of Serbian-Americans to grasp the brutal savagery of that evil conflict and to protest Serbia's guilt.

The mind-set of many Serbian-Americans is unfathomable -- even to this Serbian-American. In their minds, everyone else is to blame, especially the Croats and Bosnians. The murder and mayhem unleashed by the Serbs upon their former countrymen is others' fault. Serbia's culpability is ignored.

Be very clear about this: The overwhelming blame for what is happening in the land of the South Slavs lies with Serbia and its thugs in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Croats are not blameless and the Bosnians bear some guilt, but it is Serbia alone that stands to be condemned.

Many times have I endeavored to look away from the atrocities committed by those whose heritage I share, because the sights and sounds of the evil they have wrought in their collective madness is nauseous to me. The writing of this commentary is an ordeal because it brings before me the images of too many dead and dying Muslims in Bosnia -- dead and dying because of the Serbs.

Serbian-Americans can no more explain this nightmare away than they can explain away the fact that the president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, has emerged as one of history's greatest war criminals, including the monsters of the Third Reich. (In this there is no small irony, given the pogrom of ethnic cleansing by the Nazis against Serbs in World War II.)

Serbian-Americans may bear no blame for what is happening in the Balkans, but their silence may be construed as moral support for Serbia. In the face of such evil, there is no place for the rationalization of slaughter. But that is precisely what many Serbian-Americans are doing -- rationalizing the brutality of Serbia by invoking history, by reciting the centuries of the Serbs' servile status under the Turks, of the Croat alliance with Hitler and his henchmen: If only others "understood" the nature of the conflict, they would see clearly that the fault lies with the Croats and Bosnians and their European and American sympathizers.

But to this one Serbian-American, it won't wash.

There is something fundamentally wrong with a people so mired in the bitterness and hatred of the past they can find no peace in the present. But that is Serbia and the Serbs. It is an illness of the mind and soul that infects many Serbian-Americans, that shadows their second and third generations in this nation.

It takes an act of will to escape it, this acceptance of evil among one's own people. A sense of moral loathing is needed, but among Serbian-Americans, virtually nothing is said, no protest is raised, the infamy of the Balkans is met with silence -- the silence of shame.

I wonder how long I must wait to see Americans of Serbian heritage -- we are, after all, Americans first -- arise and denounce the mutants who slaughter the women and children of Bosnia and smirk at the world in the process. From the great Slav enclaves of Cleveland and Chicago, across the Great Divide to San Pedro in California, Serbian-Americans bearing moral witness cannot be found. A normally boisterous people has nothing to say. Theirs is a deafening silence.

Within my own family, as I have railed against Milosevic and his murderers, my arguments are met with an appeal to understand what Serbia has suffered in its history. I'm told to remember the Turks, the Croats who joined with Hitler's soldiers in killing hundreds of thousands of Serbs, that it takes two to make a war.

Those who count the sins of their ancient enemies to build a justification for acts of evil today are worthy neither of our pity nor our understanding, only of our contempt.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader.

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