Author, Robert Rundo, Rise Above Movement
Two tin cups cling in the soldier’s hand before he places them on the weathered wooden table. First he fills Nenads cup then mine with the steaming black liquid. The soldier slightly dips his shaven head, before leaving the tent out to disappear in the black night. “Zuger,” he asks me with his thick Serbian accent. I respectfully decline and am met with the faintest nod of approval. “This is Turkish style, but we drink like this for centuries too … it’s meant to be served strong,” he informs me before taking a sip. The olive green tarps that make up the walls of the tent flutter violently as the wind passes through the camp. Flags hang all along the walls of the tent. Some from Serbia’s days of monarchy others such as the Greek and Russian flag are present since being historic allies and sharing the orthodox faith. The barrack sized tent is filled with a few more wooden tables, a field style kitchen, a large patterned rug covers the earth floor and of course two icons hang prominently in the center. One to Mother Mary and and one to Miloš Obilić a Serbian soldier who killed an Ottoman sultan in battle. If one didn’t know any better he might think he was in some barrack tent from the 90s during the Yugoslavian war. Instead, this encampment sits at Pionirski park in Belgrade across the street from Serbia’s parliament building. This is part of an ongoing demonstration against the government, against the pension cuts of veterans like the organizer Nenad Stanic. As we make small talk, a well-rounded soldier with a cold reddened face passes through the tent flap to enter. He wipes his boots and looks up almost when he sees the small crew of young guys sitting at the table with Nenad. He asks something in Serbian; they exchange a quick few words. I’m only able to understand two of them, “American journalists,” which only bring the most bitter thoughts to my mind. It looks to have the same effect on the big guy as well, his black eyes narrow down onto me but quickly he moves on with the puff of a cigarette. “Not used to getting many American visitors through here, huh?” I said with a bit of a smile, “none,” he responded sharply. His intense blue eyes assess me over, This look is familiar. It reads what kind of man are you? Honest or deceitful, brave or cowardly . This all takes place in seconds. He smiles for the first time. “Where did you get those scars like the one in your eye?” he points to himself where mine is “boxing that one, the others I forget,” I say a bit embarrassed speaking to a man that has seen real fighting. “I have some scars… But some not so nice… they’re from bullets.”Nenad left his small mountain town in Cevak to volunteer into the army to serve in Bosnia at the ripe age of 18 where he spent a year. Although it was during 1999 when Nato and the United States acted against UN authority with bombing campaigns that resulted in the deaths of over 3000 civilians with the youngest being a 2 year old girl. Nenad volunteered again in the name of his country and faith. This time he was sent to Prokletija mountain region where the fiercest fighting was going on against an overwhelming confederation of enemies. From American special forces, NATO, the army of Albania, the Islamist terrorist group KLA along with local Albanian gangs and foreign jihadists from the Arabic world. “It was us against the world…they could get away with burning churches and killing Serbian civilians throughout Kosovo, but when we fought back, we were met with the hammer of NATO and United States.” Sharp wrinkles cut into the features of his face as he grimaced at the death of his comrades in battle. I asked him what his mother thought when he volunteered to serve at the front, he responded calmly “she gave me a heart, a brain and the blood of my ancestors, what could she say?” He’s eager to move on past the war stories and wants to hear what do the Americans back home think of the war. Sadly it was just another bombing campaign to add to our long list, only some more wasted tax dollars going to arming and training terrorists. Just some more democracy being spread. Shamefully, we think nothing of that war. But today, the injustices are now coming from its own government that seems more ready to jump to the commands of the EU (even though not a member) than take care of its veterans. “There is no respect for the sacrifices we made. Instead were portrayed as monsters and criminals on TV, we have only defended our faith and people…. now we have been abandoned by those we fought for”. He goes into problems of the veteran community “dealing with the horrors of war already takes a toll on the mind, coming back to be portrayed as criminals and accused of the actions our enemies did it something worse. He went on, “all this talk about ethnic cleansing, but look at the population of Serbs in Kosovo and tell me who were the ones that we really wiped out.” He takes a second sipping his coffee thinking over his thoughts. “This is a different type of stress on the mind… is one that can be the hardest”While Nenad and his comrades camp through the winter waiting for the Serbian government’s response to the demands for their pensions, inside of parliament, they greedily accept the grants from the EU and NGOs to build housing for Muslim migrants to keep them permanently in Serbia. It is a harsh reality of the new Europe – those that bleed for her so quickly abandon the please those that tread on her.