Novi Sad, Yugoslavia
"I find it wonderful," cried the actress on the stage. The lights went out. Nothing unusual in that, I suppose. Except for the fact that the lights were not supposed to go out. The actress continued her monologue, someone held up a lighter in the oppressive darkness, and no one in the audience was sure if this was all just a part of Beckett's "Happy Days", or if something had gone wrong. A blown fuse? The theater manager brought a flashlight in and aimed it at the actress who, in the great tradition of "the show must go on", dutifully finished her role. I have never heard such thundering applause for a performance in my life.
The actress was one of my former students, Svetlana Urosevic. She was one of those students who took me seriously when I spoke of individuals being responsible for their own future. She loved English, she loved the stage. Why not study both? Svetlana worked admirably hard, attending classes both at the College of Arts and Sciences and at the Academy of Fine Arts. She has one more exam to finish up at the English Department, and one more at the Academy. The show I described above was her graduation project: she acted out the main role, her young colleagues did the set design, lighting, costuming and make-up. I was as proud of her as I would have been of one of my own children.
Svetlana is a wonderful person. She is bright, amiable, gregarious and creative. Anywhere else in the world, she would be a mover and a shaker, a person of remarkable talent and determination who would reach the very top of her profession. She is articulate and well-educated. She has the high cheekbones and dark eyes, attractively slanted, of a model. Simply said, a lovely young woman. When I asked her, after the performance, what her plans were, she answered humbly, "I just want to work somewhere, anywhere".
I find it ultimately symbolic and distressing that the lights went out on her peformance. They went out because of restrictions on electricity. The electrical grid in Yugoslavia has still not recovered from the damage of the NATO airstrikes. The grid, as you remember, was considered to be "a legitimate military target". In the dog days of summer, these restrictions are inconvenient at most. The lights go out during a theater performance, people get stuck in elevators, bread and milk arrive late at the stores. However, winter is coming. Electricity drives the pumps which deliver water and heating to our homes and schools. Electricity runs the ovens which bake our daily bread.
The Clinton administration is fighting a war against the regime in Serbia, or so it says. There will be no aid given to the country we so mercilessly bombed until there is political change in the country. Despite the fact that sanctions have never, ever caused political change anywhere (Cuba, Iraq, Libya, etc.), the administration insists that Milosevic must go before life can go on in Serbia. The irony of it all, of course, is that the regime will have heating and lights in the winter. The sanctions will do damage only to the general population, especially to children, the old, and the sick.
Even if the United States is still claiming that operation Allied Force was a humanitarian mission (which is quite obviously a lie now that 80% of all the non-Albanian population has been forcibly evicted from Kosovo under the watchful eye of NATO), it can no longer claim that it is not at war with the people of Yugoslavia. Generations of young people, crippled by years of UN sanctions and war, are facing a grim future. Instead of making concrete promises to help them, the Clinton administration is holding a stick over their heads, threatening and scolding. Once again, Bill Clinton and his incompetent staff are fouling the waters, making the world an unsafe place for Americans. You see, other countries (some of them nuclear powers) are watching developments here carefully. The peoples of those countries are steadily learning to despise America and Americans. That is clearly not in our national interests.
Even so, Yugoslavia will survive the winter. The question is deeper than that. What of Svetlana's future? Economists predict that it will take ten years to restore the country to the level of its pre-war economy. That economy was one of the poorest in Europe. It will take another ten years of hard work and investment to raise Yugoslavia to the level of its wealthier neighbors, Italy and Greece. By then, Svetlana will be 44. If she stays here, she will struggle with her country and reach mid-life at about the time the country gets on its feet. If she goes abroad, she will probably have to work illegally as a waitress or dishwasher, thereby discarding years of training and education. The lights will go out on what was a highly promising career.
Randall A. Major
Novi Sad, Yugoslavia