'00 quit his job last year and spent three months in Belgrade, Yugoslavia,
searching for direction. After befriending some young Serbians, he discovered
that all education is not equal.
has spent his entire life in Belgrade. He was the first employee Yugoslavia's
national bank hired after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic's regime in 2000.
He was also the first revolutionary I met on my trip.
higher education was not the same experience that a student finds in Fort
Worth. His classes were conducted in crowded auditoriums where the stairs
and aisles were considered prime seating. He was lucky if his professors
did much more than read to the class out of a textbook, though this was
helpful since the students often had to share their study materials.
the time, however, textbooks were the least of his concerns. Upon graduation,
all Serbian men must complete at least nine months of military service.
Before October 2000, this service might have included combat in Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Croatia or Kosovo. And Milosevic's cruel campaign of ethnic cleansing
was something that Zeljko wanted nothing to do with.
Later I met
Danilo, Doc and Surgeon, all fellow students with Zeljko, and as a group
they told me how they toppled a government with the help of 20,000 or
so of their fellow students. The account of their protests was astonishing.
At the time,
NATO was bombing the city in an effort to force Milosevic to stop aggression
in Kosovo. To minimize civilian casualties, the locations of the bombing
targets were broadcast. In a version of reverse psychology, the students
threw parties on the bridges around Belgrade so that they wouldn't be
destroyed in the nightly raids. The students had little regard for NATO's
political targets but valued the bridges. "Without the bridges, we would
have had to swim across the river," Danilo joked.
largest student demonstration, more than 25,000 unarmed students faced
8,000 police in the street in front of the parliament building. The street
is now called Revolution Boulevard. They threw no rocks and set no fires.
They didn't even yell at the police. The typical police officer in Belgrade
is barely out of his 20s and poorly educated, so the students hoped that
their opposition would see how determined they were and realize the hate
behind Milosevic's propaganda.
lasted eight days. In the area between two massed groups, the students
decided to have some fun. On the first day they held a soccer tournament.
On the second day it was a beauty pageant, complete with sashes and a
tiara for the winner. Doc and a student named George helped organize a
battle of the bands on the fifth day. They halted the revelry on the last
day and searched their homes for full-length mirrors. In the end, they
held the mirrors up in front of the police in a defiant gesture.
the protesters dispersed, members of the former ruling party simply disappeared.
What remained was a city battered by relentless bombing but filled with
inspired and hopeful residents.
for that hope was very steep. Approximately 2,000 people in Belgrade died
during the six months of bombing. It's difficult to describe how it feels
to meet someone who lost relatives in military action carried out by his
own country. In theory, they were sacrificed so that others would not
suffer. In practice, it's harder to justify.
still has problems, despite a more democratic government being in place.
Corruption runs rampant. Normal citizens are still restricted from traveling
to other countries without foreign sponsorship because the government
is afraid of mass emigration. Large numbers of people are unemployed or
employed far below their skill level. Homeless children drink from the
fountains in the town square and beg for handouts. Public health is only
beginning to take shape. Outbreaks of measles and polio have been recorded
heading for Vanderbilt University, thanks to an impressive scholarship.
The 25-year-old who taught himself English got a better score on the GMAT
than the average of last year's class at Harvard.
friends taught me that the true revolutionary isn't necessarily the person
waving the flag or giving the speeches. As Americans, we take such an
important role in shaping what goes on in our global community. Zeljko
and his friends are my age, but they don't complain about what they don't
have. Rather, they embrace the potential that they can now take advantage
The day before
I left Belgrade, I decided to visit the U.S. Embassy. The directions were
easy. Head north on Revolution Boulevard and take a right.
the second bombed-out building on the right.
Sam at email@example.com.