Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevics mansion was nearly destroyed by NATOs cruise missiles Friday, April
brothers Bujar and Ramiz Berisha helped build in Kosovo in the early 90s. It has since
been burned to the ground.
Hours later, as night fell over Queens, members of the Serbian
Association of New York gathered at their clubhouse in Glendale. One by one they were
buzzed into the membersonly restaurantbar.
Inside, folded leaflets, written in Serbian, litter the bar.
Announcements in the mens native tongue paper the walls. There is only one woman
the bartender. A Serbian flag hangs over the bar next to a picture of General
Draza, a World War II hero who saved the lives of Allied pilots.
"I want one thing to be clear," said Dobrica Cakic, as he
headed out of the door. "The Serbs were one of the only Christian groups in Europe
who stood up for the Jews during World War II. We are not bad people. We are not
terrorists. The KLA are terrorists."
The CNN broadcast is the only English spoken in the room. The volume
rises and falls, depending on the story being aired. A report on the billions of dollars
spent on the war effort gets high volume; pictures of starving refugees make the
corespondents voice fade behind the sound of empty whiskey glasses hitting the
George Janovic sits at the bar in military fatigues. The owner of a
construction company specializing in high-end renovations, Janovic is losing money because
the men who work for him Serbs, Albanians, Croats, Bosnians, Macedonians and
Romanians are distracted by the fighting in the Balkans.
"They cant focus at work because all they can think about is
the war," said Janovic. "They dont sleep. They watch CNN all night, and
they cant eat. Its hard to renovate a Park Avenue apartment on three hours of
Janovic said many other construction companies have fired workers for
coming to work late and tired as a result of their absorption in the war.
"I have not fired anyone even though my profits are down 30
percent," said Janovic. "We discuss the problems going on. Really it sounds like
a flea market at work with all the chatter going on. I just join in with them and hope the
clients understand. Usually they do, but some get upset when their apartments are not
ready on time."
Bob Stopanjac, president of the seven year-old Serbian Association,
describes the frustration members feel.
"NATO has to stop the bombing," he said. "The UN has to
sit down at the table and put an end to this. They didnt even stop over Easter. At
least Hitler stopped on Easter. The genocide is propaganda. NATO can beat us in the air
but not on the ground. It will take eight NATO soldiers to fight one Serb. We have nothing
From across the room a bearded man begins to shout. "NATO,"
he exclaimed. "You mean the North Atlantic Terrorist Organization? Its their
birthday. I hope its their last."
The Enemy Next Door
Ramiz Berisha await the arrival of their two refugee brothers from Kosovo.
While many Serbians believe NATO is acting improperly by
involving itself in Kosovo, a large number of Queens ethnic Albanians applaud the
In Flushing, Ramiz Berisha works as a building manager in a large
"NATO is doing a good job," he said. "They have to
destroy Milosevic and his military machine. It must be completely destroyed."
In his basement office, he keeps a fat notebook listing the order of
residents repairs. After a woman needing a lightbulb disappears, he continues to
"The KLA should be armed with the right supplies," he said.
"And we will be willing to fight so Americans dont have to die. If we arm the
KLA, that will be sufficient."
Berisha is president of the Albanian group called the Democratic
League, which for 10 years has been working to help Kosovos ethnic Albanians.
Members donate three percent of their salaries to support ethnic Albanians as well as the
Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
In 1983, Berisha could not get a visa to leave Yugoslavia and come to
the United States. So he flew to Mexico, crossed the Rio Grande River in a barrel and
hitchhiked to Queens, where two of his uncles lived. He was granted political asylum and
is now an American citizen.
Berisha said he wishes Kosovo could become the 51st state of the United
States when the fighting is over in his homeland. In the meantime he keeps up to date by
watching CNN and getting on the Internet. His favorite website is www.kosovapress.com
which offers up-to-the minute accounts of what is happening in his birthplace.
"I never believed this would happen," Berisha said. "I
always thought some Serbs would have thought better of it and prevented it. They gave my
parents five minutes to leave the house I helped finance and build. They wanted to throw
them down a well. Today the house is completely destroyed. It has been burned to the
Last week, Vice President Al Gore announced that in the next month, the
United States will take in 20,000 of the 600,000 ethnic Albanian refugees who have fled
Kosovo. Two of them will be Berishas brothers.
"I am so excited that they will be coming," said Berisha.
"I dont know exactly when they will arrive, but we are ready. They have
suffered so very much. They went through mountains, and had to avoid landmines."
While some Kosovars escaped the Balkans unscathed, some teenage Serbs
living in Queens have been physically attacked.
A 16-year-old Serbian boy was beaten Thursday, April 22, while five
boys shouted "Albania."
The attack took place at the intersection of 31st Avenue and 45th
Street near William C. Bryant High School in Long Island City. The teenager was treated at
Western Queens Community Hospital for cuts and bruises to his head.
Suada Smakovik, 16, is a friend of the five boys who attacked the
Serbian boy last week. Her mother is Albanian.
"There are Albanians, Serbs, Bosnians and kids from Montenegro
living here," she said. "We were all friends. But since the war there has been
tension. They told me they were going over to Bryant to beat the Serb kid up. They did
that out of foolishness. Before this bombing we were friends. Milosevic is the
Queens Helping Hand
discuss the war at the Serbian Association of New York in Glendale.
Not only people from the Balkans are concerned about whats
going on in Kosovo. NATO reports that 100,000 ethnic Albanian men are missing and 600,000
refugees have fled ethnic cleansing. Dr. Jenny Walser decided to do something for the
refugees she saw in a pages of a news magazine.
Dr. Walser, 30, headed out of LaGaurdia on April 26 with two 70-pound
duffel bags full of medical supplies to treat ethnic Albanian refugees flooding into
Macedonian border towns. She carried containers of aspirin, amoxicillin, tylenol and a
dozen other medications.
Walser will spend five weeks working for the International Medical
Corps as part of the First Line Emergency Care mobile units. The units will provide
24-hour care and first aid for the refugees. Walser has completed her residency and will
begin her new job at Elmhurst Hospital this summer.
"While all of us watch the horrors faced by the Kosovar
refugees," said Congressman Anthony Weiner, who provided Walser with medical
supplies, "we wish we could do more."
On The Home Front
As Apache helicopters, designed to destroy Serb tanks and armored
vehicles, make their way into Albania, people in Queens are deeply affected by this
Meanwhile the US Congress discusses and prepares to vote on two
resolutions under the War Powers Actone to declare war, the other to remove US
Simultaneously the possibility of a ground war looms large; the people
of Queens hope for the best, while some predict the worst.
"This is going to turn into Vietnam," said Serbian Dobrica
Cakic. "Unless something changes fast."