Far away, perhaps, far enough that it never seemed important enough to people on this side of the Atlantic a nation nestled in the depths of Eastern Europe.  When Eastern Europe is mentioned, usually the first thoughts evoked are of the former USSR, heavy accents, Cold War and a whole other world fairly new to the West.  One of these countries is Serbia, or former Yugoslavia as some people may know it.  Although it was never under the USSR, there still lies a certain taboo when Serbian decent is mentioned, not only in the United States but throughout Europe.

Globalization has allowed for a world that is no longer disconnected, information travels from one side of the world to the other in a matter of seconds.  This and particular acts of certain people created an image that Serbians are no different from the monsters that a few years ago supported ethnic cleansings.

If only the West knew the real story of the Serbian struggle.  Serbia is not a nation filled with uneducated individuals full of themselves, living only to create an image of a greater Serbia.  It’s quite the opposite. The West seems to forget, or never really knew what happened in this very country in the year 1999.  The citizens of Serbia lived in constant fear in the years following the death of Dictator Marshall Tito, who successfully maintained peace in the region.   One name synonymous with Serbia is Slobodan Milosevic.  In contrary to common belief, the people of Serbia never did support Milosevic entirely.    There are always exceptions to the rule, he did have a few followers but for the most part the people of Serbia feared him more than supported him, they feared what he was capable of doing.

The events that took center stage in the capital city of Belgrade in the year of 1999 were all of these fears coming to reality.  Due to the West’s inability to peacefully remove Milosevic from power NATO air strikes began on the city of Belgrade on March 24, 1999.

The sounds and images are still very vivid in my mind.  When I hear an air plane flying low shivers run down my spine.  Sirens, whenever I hear the sound my heart starts racing.  Then I realize it’s all over and quickly move on.  One day in particular will haunt me forever.  Although NATO claims no civilians were hurt and only drawn out targets were attacked, I can’t help but laugh.  A bomb was dropped minutes away from my home in Belgrade. The windows to my home began shaking and all that was heard were screams.  This is when one of my closest childhood friends passed away, their home was adjacent to where the bomb was dropped.  Being nine years old, I didn’t know what really happened, overcome by grief and anger is not what a child is supposed to experience.  In fear that another bomb will be dropped in our neighborhood, my parents, who at the time lived in the United States, sent me away to live with my other grandparents in a small town.  Even there the reality of war was present.  It all ended in June of 1999.

What do you tell the people that lived through all of this?  How can they be categorized as monsters and heartless individuals?  Their lives were torn apart while the West turned a blind eye and focused on the wrongs done by the Serbian government.  There is no doubt in my mind that living through these particular events changed me for the rest of my life.  In reality, I can never erase those memories.  Every summer when I visit Serbia, the remaining rubble is there to remind me of what my childhood consisted of.  Sometimes people ask me if I feel that my childhood was taken away, I do not.  My response is, these events made me who I am today.  They formed my frame and created a path in my life that I want to follow.  What I hope to do is work with Serbia and the United States, in mending their relationship and portraying the Serbian people in a different light.  In their true light.

Am I angry?  At times yes, the young boy who was like my own brother, the same young boy with whom I shared my daily meals, who was the first person to my side when the older kids bullied me, the same boy who was there to help me up when I fell and scraped my knees.  This boy will always be part of me.  No time can erase him from my memory.  If I accomplish nothing in life, I at least know that his memory is living through me and he will always have part of my heart.