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U.S. Serbs Torn Between Loyalties

March 26, 1999

CHICAGO (AP) _ After NATO’s air assaults began on Yugoslavia, 17-year-old Vladimir Vukovic called his former girlfriend’s home in Belgrade.

``I told them I’m sorry for being here,″ Vukovic said, his voice shaking with emotion. ``I’m sorry I can’t be there to help.″

Vukovic escaped Sarajevo under fire from Bosnian troops about two years ago, and said he is familiar with war. But the guilt of living in the country that is now bombing his homeland seemed to overwhelm the teen-ager.

``I should be there to help my people who have never seen war,″ he said Thursday. In the United States, he said he is limited to protesting NATO actions _ and prayer.

Vukovic, a high school student who came to Chicago with his parents, echoed the conflicted feelings of a half-dozen Serbs gathered outside St. Steven Decani Free Serbian Orthodox Church on the city’s northwest side.

Danny Jankovic, 47, an American citizen who has owned a construction business in Chicago for 12 years, said he considers the United States his country but is angered by what he contends is foolish interference by President Clinton in a centuries-old struggle.

``You Americans don’t understand our history,″ he said. ``Kosovo is like our Jerusalem. Serbs have been fighting for Kosovo for 500 years. They will never stop.″

He said he feared the conflict would grow into another world war.

``This is not Bill Clinton’s or NATO’s business,″ he said.

Jankovic and others in the group felt no bitterness toward their American friends and neighbors who, they said, are generally conflicted about the bombings.

An estimated 350,000 ethnic Serbs live in the Chicago area, historically a center for Balkan emigrants. In recent days, hundreds have gathered at Serbian Orthodox churches for prayer while others have stayed glued to their television sets watching the trouble at home.

Rade Markovic, 44, sat on a bar stool at his empty, darkened Serbian Village Restaurant. With one eye to a 24-hour television news channel, he said his usual Thursday night crowd would probably not show up.

``People don’t want to work, they don’t want to go out to eat, they want to stay home, make phone calls and watch television,″ he said.

Markovic said Clinton should be worrying about the United States instead of interfering in a foreign conflict.

``I worry about the homeless that sometimes sleep in my basement here, or that I’ll be robbed on the street,″ he said. ``Shouldn’t President Clinton worry about those things instead of what is happening in Kosovo?″

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