Serb Refugees in Flight From War Find Reunion
But thousands arriving in capital city disrupt social fabric
WAR often splits families apart. But the rapidly spreading Yugoslav civil war has brought one family together - as refugees.The Bogdanovics are Serbs from Croatia. They have lived in Glina, on the Slavonian plain, for at least four generations, but their son Drajan left Glina for the Croatian capital, Zagreb, 15 years ago. Now the fighting in Croatia has reunited them - this time in Serbia's capital, Belgrade. In May, Drajan lost his job in Zagreb after refusing to sign a loyalty oath to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and moved to Belgrade. On Aug. 30, after heavy fighting in Glina, Drajan's father Ostoja and mother Jasmina joined their son and his wife and two children in Belgrade. The six refugees live in a 25-square-foot, two- room shack in a backyard in Borca, a working class ghetto outside Belgrade of half finished buildings, rusted Soviet Lada cars, scattered chickens, and crying children. Drajan's salary as a locksmith and construction worker barely supports the entire family. Winter is coming, and their uninsulated shack has no heat. The Bogdanovics are among an estimated 250,000 Serb and Croat refugees who have fled the fighting in eastern and southern Croatia. Roughly 105,000 refugees are Serbs who fled to Serbia, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Many male refugees have been rounded up in Belgrade, and other parts of Serbia, and shipped to bases in Serbia and Bosnia. Sitting on tiny wooden stools in the backyard, the Bogdanovics offer a ground-level view into one side of the war. Ostoja fought the Nazi establishment in Croatia in World War II. In each reference he makes to Croatia's National Guard, which swept through Glina, he calls it Ustasha, after the Croatian fascists who killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs in the war. Ostoja supports Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Jasmina says the terror she felt in Glina, which was bombed by the Serbian-led federal Air Force, was as bad as that she experienced during World War II. Neither she nor Ostoja, however, have actually witnessed any brutality or any campaign of mass roundups as in former Ustasha days. Drajan says that until two years ago, no one in Zagreb ever asked him his nationality. Then came the high-profile nationalist election campaign of President Tudjman, and people started to ask. "I never thought about nationalism before," says Drajan, a faithful Communist. But when he lost his job, he brought his wife and two small boys to Belgrade because he did not want the children to "be raised in a time of injustice," he says. The war hurts the Bogdanovics in another way. They have Croat friends they've lived near all their lives. Other friends have mixed marriages. Jasmina has called Croat friends who fled to Rijeka. "We are still friends. Why shouldn't we be. We can't wait to see each other again." The problem is not with the people, but with Zagreb and Belgrade, the Bogdanovics say. Belgrade's refugees are disrupting the city's fragile social ecology. Serbia's economy is already in shambles compared to the republics of Croatia and Slovenia. Unemployment is high. And the Marxist regime is applying a heavy handed "socialist remedy" to the refugees. First, the problem is being downplayed. Second, the official and unofficial rules regarding housing, jobs, and schools are being rewritten. An official policy begun last month requires employers to hire a certain number of refugees. Schools, including very limited university programs, have increased enrollment to make room for refugees - causing outrage among some students who narrowly missed qualifying. Serbia's opposition press reports a growing number of families forced to "volunteer" as "hosts" for Serb refugees. "The state says: Here are the people you are volunteering to keep. They are your responsibility; we don't want to hear any more about it," says one journalist. The Bogdanovics are fortunate. Their host wanted to help refugees, and Drajan's mechanical knowledge helped him find work.