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Defending Their Serbia

Local Yugoslav expatriates condemn the NATO bombings and media misrepresentations

by Tom Tugend

May 13, 1999 | 8:00 pm

When Dusica Savic Benghiat makes her daily phone call to her mother in Belgrade, she can frequently hear the air-raid sirens as a backdrop to the 78-year-old woman's increasingly discouraged voice.

"My mother tells me she doesn't care anymore. She just stays in bed. If the bombs miss her, that's fine, and if they hit, somebody will pick up what's left," says Benghiat.

The Pacific Palisades resident tries to empathize with her mother's plight. "If I had to go to the shelter every day, I don't know what state I'd be in," she says. "How long can you go on before you go crazy and give up on life completely?"

During the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the first half of this decade, Benghiat, who immigrated to the United States in 1974, served as regional president of the Serbian-Jewish Friendship Society.

She often called The Jewish Journal and other media, championing the cause of the Serbian people and contrasting their resistance against Nazi Germany to the Croatian collaboration with Hitler during World War II.

But now, contacted by The Journal, she says that the society's membership in Los Angeles is practically dormant because "it has become uncomfortable to support anything in favor of the Serbians. And I guess we're weary of fighting the same battle over and over again."

As to the mood in her native country, "people feel ostracized and demonized, but once you're bombed, you have no choice but to resist," says Benghiat.

Like most Serbian-Americans, she charges the American media with bias and historical ignorance. While most Western observers assign much of the blame for the present conflict to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's 1989 edict that abolished the autonomy enjoyed by the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, Benghiat has a different perspective.

"My uncle lived in Kosovo in the 1970s, but had to leave because of the persecution by Albanians," she says. "They were expelling the Serbians; that's why autonomy was revoked."

As a Jew, Benghiat particularly resents analogies of the Serb action in Kosovo to the Holocaust. "The Holocaust is unique," she says. "It is unjust and dangerous to use the term in the present situation."

However demoralizing and damaging the NATO bombing may be, it will not topple the present government, Benghiat asserts. "I tell you, Milosevic will be the last person to feel the pain," she says.

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