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Community Reacts to Kosovo Crisis

By Anna K. Benefiel

and Karen E. Robinson

The ongoing crisis in Kosovo has stirred intense emotions among members of the MIT community.

Serbian graduate students, expressed concern for their families and homes: “[I] hope that this bombing will stop immediately,” said Jelena M. Popovic G.

Albanian MIT affiliate Iliriana Mushkolaj spoke of her relatives who have fled Kosovo: “the bombing is the right thing to do, it is long overdue.”

Serbian students react

Popovic said “bombing will not solve any problem: not for Serbians, not for Albanians.” The NATO bombing, “is destroying people’s lives,” as well as the infrastructure of Yugoslavia. Aleksandar Kojic G added that “what they call ‘collateral damage’ can be your family ... we don’t know if we are ever going to hear from each other again.” Kojic said, “It is very hard to do any work. You sit down and you just can’t concentrate.” The students wondered how people will live after the bombing has stopped.

Saying “we are all politically against Milosevic here” the students asserted that most Serbians do not support Milosevic, but said a nation must stand behind its army when attacked.

Ljubomir M. Ilic G spoke of his own return to Serbia and legal obligation to be a soldier. “I have to [serve]. I have no other option.” For the Serbian students the reality of the situation is incredibly frightening. “People on the other side [of the world] really die,” when a missile is fired. “It’s not a game,” he said.

Ethnic Albanians support strikes

Mushkolaj, a visiting scholar in the Special Program on Urban and Regional Studies at MIT, commented on the lack of awareness about Kosovo on the MIT campus. “Except me,” she said, there are “no ethnic Albanian students” at MIT.

Meri Treska, a Research Associate in Materials Science and Engineering, is the only other ethnic Albanian associated with MIT. Suggesting that this is “a reflection of how ethnic Albanians in Kosovo were discriminated against,” Mushkolaj said. “I think NATO should continue to bomb” even though her family was expelled from their house which was subsequently burned. “Freedom has a price, and we certainly have to pay for it.”

Treska said, “I feel so sad for my ethnic brothers in Kosovo, to suffer in that way. I would like to thank the US government for helping us with the airstrike and the support given to ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. I hope for the best, I hope we find the right solution for the Kosovo [conflict]. I’d like to see Kosovo a free country, an independent country.”

“No simple solution” exists, Bogdanov said, “no matter what we come up with, something will be sacrificed. The hope is that with a more civilized approach, we’ll not let whole nations be sacrificed.”

Balkan students comment

Contributing another perspective on the crisis, Macedonian Andrej Bogdanov ’00 said, “I think the world should do anything they can to stop the ethnic cleansing.” He continued, “I know that [the bombing is] not fair to all the Serbs... but the Serbs control the government, which controls the military.”

Bogdanov grew up 10 miles away from Kosovo border in Macedonia. “The cultures are very different, and that’s always a problem... the problem is that the two communities live very separately,” he said. “It’s a real illusion that you can deal with these problems by force.”

Students from other areas of the Balkans are concerned by the crisis as well. Tarik Alatovic ’01, from Bosnia-Herzegovinia, said, “I’m thinking about it all the time... we don’t know how many people are being slaughtered right now, as we speak.”

Alatovic has become a more religious since the conflict started, as have many people from the former Yugoslavia, he said. They “start to identify as muslims or serbs,” he said. Several years ago, he didn’t know how to distinguish Serbian and Muslim names, but “you had to learn, [to distinguish]” he said.

Bogdanov said that “I used to identify [myself] as a Yugoslavian” not as a specific nationality before the war. “If you go far back enough in history” it’s unclear what any specific nationality is, there’s no “pure heritage.” We are “all mixed,” said Bogdanov.

Other students air opinions

Speaking at an International Student Study Break, one student said, “Not just the Balkans are affected. The entire European community is affected.” International student Soloman Assefa ’00 felt that it wasn’t “correct, to go in and bomb a sovereign country... Considering the amount of time, energy, and money that it will take for a country to recover [from bombardment], it’s not worth it.”

Russia has condemned NATO for intervention in Kosovo. “I heard from people back home [in Moscow]... that people are very upset at the United States.” said Natasha Iliouchina ’00. Iliouchina feels that though the “US is making this too one-sided... in this conflict, there is no right or wrong. Everyone is to blame.”

MIT students join protest

MIT students who are not from the Balkans also showed an interest in the crisis. Six students attended yesterday’s protest at Copley Square. Fahad M. Desmukh ’02 said he is bothered by the fact that thousands of people are being slaughtered and “right now nothing can be done.”

At the protest in Copley Square, five TV cameras and 25 police officers looked on as students from other schools in Boston and community members expressed their support for the NATO action.

Damian Y. Kolodiy, an Emerson senior, called the protest “a wake-up call.” We cannot, as students, continue to be “oblivious to” the crisis.

Nandini M. Mascarenhas. a Wellesley sophomore who helped organize the protest via Amnesty International, was concerned about the Albanian refugees. “The fact that they have nowhere to go” is the most alarming she said.

The President of Boston University’s Albanian Student organization, Mentor Mustafa said that students should “Urge the US Congress, Senate and NATO to send as much aid as possible” to the refugees.