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Yugoslavs en famille

Look here into the face of man as family, gathered together quickly on a summer day. Open. Gregarious. Warm. The children freed by their adults' ease. Perhaps not a prosperous family, but amply provided with closeness and the richness of being together. This is the power of a family.

But is it Kansas in the background? Maybe the French countryside, or somewhere in Poland's rolling farmland?

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What strikes me about the photo is the similarity to a photo from the albums of my family. The place is a backyard in Arcadia, Calif. A summer day. Three brothers in front of Mom and Dad, all grinning, all close and touching. I can remember the moment because my mother smoothed my hair quickly, and I mussed it up again. I don't remember who took the photo.

The photo here, taken by photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman, has the same kind of family exuberance.

Freeman and a colleague were traveling throughout Eastern Europe before the collapse of communism. This family happily posed outside of Zagreb, Yugoslavia.

''The Yugoslavs were the friendliest of anybody on the trip,'' Freeman says.

Unfortunately, with acts of ethnic cleansing at work, Yugoslavia began to fall apart in June 1991. Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the federation. A terrible bloody war began, rooted in ethnic and religious differences. No end is in sight.

And what happened to this family and their friendliness? The wrenching conditions in their small country have no doubt affected them directly and deeply.

The biggest boy in the photo is now a teenager, perhaps regrettably drawn into the conflict. Or has he managed to elude the madness because he lived in Zagreb, a northern city and away from the fighting?

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More important, has he managed to free himself from the legacy of hate that is blinding his country? After all, no matter how pudgy and impish he may have been in the photo, the capacity to reject what is useless and destructive knows no age or border.

The call to him, and all of his generation, is to exercise real power, that is, the power to prevent war.

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