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Transnational Communities Programme

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Serbs Across the World React With Fury at NATO

Serb communities in Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere reacted with anger and disbelief at the NATO bombing campaign. Although Serbia called on the diaspora to strike back, the majority of Serbs abroad appear to distrust the Milosevic government.

The Serbian population overseas outnumbers the Albanian diaspora. In Europe there are estimated to be around 1.2 million Serbs outside Yugoslavia, including 350,000 in Germany, 300,000 in Austria, 80,000 in Switzerland, 80,00 in France, 30,000 in Romania and 4,000 in Denmark according to various reports. In Croatia there may be as many as 250,000 - 300,000 ethnic Serbs. Most left either during the Second World War or afterwards in the Tito era. Some fled after the outbreak of war in 1991. Yet among the emigrants there was widespread hostility to the bombing and, despite a distrust of President Milosevic, a desire to express solidarity with the homeland. Representative Rod R. Blagojevich (Democrat, Illinois) a Serbian-American from Chicago feared that the campaign would only strengthen Milosevic.

Deputy Premier Vojislav Seselj urged Serbs in the diapora to strike back wherever they lived. Yugoslavia called on its professional football players based abroad to stop playing, after a suggestion from three top players based in Japan, Spain and Belgrade. Sasa Curcic, who plays for the London side Crystal Palace, protested outside the British Prime Minister's residence each day. Players as far away as South Korea and Japan took their protests onto the pitch. In Germany, France and Spain, Serbian players either refused to play or were given permission not to by sympathetic coaches.

The largest concentrations of Serbian-Americans in the USA are in Chicago (300,000), Detroit (20,000), Cleveland and the Midwest: there are estimated to be 50,000 Serbian-Americans in southern California. In the USA there was particular anger from those Serbian-Americans who had fought alongside the Allies against Germany, or who had fled communism for the West. Seven hundred Serb and anti-war protestors demonstrated outside Grand Central Station and marched on the New York Times offices to protest about press disinformation. A thousand Serbian-Americans demonstrated outside the federal Building in Westwood, Los Angeles. Hundreds of Serbian and anti-war demonstrators crowded into Daley Center Plaza in Chicago. Fighting between Albanian-Americans and a car carrying a Yugoslav flag broke out in front of the Federal Building in Detroit. Earlier in the day, Serbian-Albanians demonstrated outside the same building in opposition to the war.

In many of the protests across the USA, in Boston, New York and elsewhere, alongside Serbian flags there were banners declaring that Kosovo is ‘Serbia's Jerusalem’, territory never to be surrendered. British Serbs made the same reference to the Holy City.

Roman Catholic and Serbian Orthodox religious leaders issued a joint plea for the end of hostilities at the start of Easter observances. The Serbian Orthodox Church filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Chicago to stop the NATO bombings.

The Serbian National Shield Society and the Consul General of Yugoslavia both estimate that there are 250,000 Serbs in Canada, around 50,000 in Toronto. Statistics Canada says there are 40,000 ethnic Serbs in the country. Three thousand people gathered each day in Toronto in front of the US Consulate. The demonstrations turned violent when Molotov cocktails were thrown against the building, causing embarrassment among community leaders and priests. There were also smaller rallies in London, Ontario and Edmonton. The Serbian League of Canada is based in Hamilton, Ontario.

In Australia, 7,000 pro-Serbian demonstrators attacked the US Consulate in Sydney. The crowd then descended on the Opera House where Prime Minister John Howard was attending a celebration of Greek National Independence Day, and continued the protest. The US consulate in Melbourne was stoned, where 6,000 protestors gathered, and smaller rallies were held in Canberra and Adelaide.

There are 40-50,000 Serbs in Britain according to various estimates, 35,000 of them in London, mainly in the western borough of Hammersmith and Ealing. Notting Hill is the community's main focus, with the Orthodox Church and the Serbian Community Centre. Leeds also has a large community. Most Serbs in the UK are second or third generation, whose parents fled from Communism, although some arrived after 1991. Representatives of Britain's Serbian community expressed opposition to the attacks and insisted on Kosovo staying a part of Serbia. They complained that the British Foreign Secretary refers to 'Kosova', the Albanian version, rather than 'Kosovo', as Serbs call the region. Complaints against the press coverage were also vehement. Over 2,000 protested outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Downing Street. Certain nationalists in the British Serbian community are under surveillance from the security forces, according to the Sunday Telegraph. Websites, pubs and clubs are under observation.

There were also protests against NATO in Athens, Cyprus and South Africa, where there is a Serbian population of 10,000. The Serbian National Authority in Hungary condemned the airstrikes.

On March 28th a computer hacker and a member of the Serb Black Hand hackers' group announced that he had successfully shut down a US Navy computer. He claimed to have deleted its data, and the computer was withdrawn from the internet. The group stated that it had a list of military compurters throughout Europe and would continue to attack them.

The KLA, Serbian information ministry, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the UK Foreign Office and the US State Department all increased their activity on their websites. In addition, much information circulates through private sites, notably one run by Sava Jajic, a monk from Kosvo. Radio Yugoslavia also broadcasts in English on the internet. The independent B92 radio station from Belgrade managed to keep broadcasting on the internet even after its main station was closed down by the Serbian authorities. Its programmes are sent out via the Netherlands. Two other stations, Radio 21 and Koha Detore, were successfully shut down by the government.

Serbian-Americans: U.S. Kith and Kin Feel the Attack Themselves, Dirk Johnson New York Times 25.3.99; Live and let live in an anxious suburb: Leeds, Paul Wilkinson Times of London 25.3.99; In the United States, Albanians hope for peace, Serbs feel betrayal, Associated Press 25.3.99; Albanians struggle with conflicting emotions, Mark Stevenson Ottawa Citizen 25.3.99; Europe's Serbian diaspora in distress over raids, Agence France Presse 25.3.99; Exiles supprt Belgrade right to keep Kosovo, Mark Henderson and Alex O'Connell Times of London 25.3.99; Hungarian Serbian Authority Condemns NATO Air Strikes, Hungarian New Agency 25.3.99; Local Serbs seek to cross great divide, Kim North Shine Detroit Free Press 26.3.99; Praying for Relatives in the Balkans, William Branigin Washington Post 26.3.99; Shock and fear for loved ones as SA Serbs lash 'barbaric' raids, Chene Blignaut Cape Argues 26.3.99; Change of status from ally to bully dismays Serbs living in Britain, Katherine Griffiths and Martin Wainwright The Guardian 26.3.99; Web witnesses put fresh spin on news, Simon Rogers The Guardian 27.3.99; Serbs here rally against bombings, Clinton, Brenda Warner Rotzoll Chicago Sun-Times 27.3.99; Serb hackers reportedly disrupt US military computer, BBC monitoring international reports 28.3.99; Marchers besiege Downing Street, Sunday Times 28.3.99; Violence at Serb protests splits local community, Joel Baglole and Donovan Vincent Toronto Star 28.3.99; The demonstrators, mostly Serbian Americans, demand an end to the assaults on their ancestral land, Patrick J. McDonnell Los Angeles Times 28.3.99; The War against Serbia: MI5 keeps tabs on Serbs in Britain, Rajeev Syal and David Bamber Sunday Telegraph 28.3.99; Protesters, police clash in Australia, USA Today 28.3.99; Toronto Serbs protest, Vancouver Province 29.3.99; West London Serb Congregation Shuts Media Out Of Service, Christine Middap Times of London 29.3.99; Anti-NATO Protests Erupt in Australia, Business Day 29.3.99; Americans With Family in Serbia Turn to Phone for News, Comfort, Eric Slater Los Angeles Times 31.3.99; Religious leaders seek halt to bombing for Easter, Harry Dunphy Associated Press 1.4.99; Far From Loved Ones, Shared Agony Kosovar and Serbian Immigrants Alike Watch War's Ravages Helplessly, Philip P. Pan Washington Post 1.4.99; Yugoslavs step up anti-war protests, Martin Thorpe The Guardian 2.4.99

Germany Backtracks on Dual Citizenship

Germany’s right wing opposition parties started a populist campaign against proposals to introduce dual citizenship. Under pressure, the SDP-Green government watered down its reforms.

Following the election of the Social Democratic Party/Green coalition government in Germany the debate on the reform of citizenship laws became more polarised. The opposition Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union parties began a petition campaign against the changes in mid-January. Rallies and marches were also planned. The CDU-CSU intended to create a powerful extra-parliamentary movement to retain the ius sanguinis principle of Germany’s citizenship.

Edmund Stoiber, CSU premier of Bavaria, claimed that the proposal to alter the laws posed a greater threat to German security than the Red Army Faction terrorism of the 1970s and 1980s. Other opponents claimed that it would encourage Kurdish terrorism. Stoiber asserted that it would fundamentally alter German national identity. He said, ‘we do not want a multicultural society’. In his view the tolerance of dual nationality would lead to divided loyalties. The campaign organisers claimed that two-thirds of Germans were opposed to the changes. A poll by Bild Zeitung in January found half of all Germans opposed to dual nationality but a majority in favour of automatic citizenship for children born in the country. By early March the petition had gathered a million names.

The leader of the far right German People's Party welcomed the campaign. But many Christian Democrats, including Barbara John (Berlin’s Commissioner for Foreigners) were appalled at the campaign and accused the campaigners of stirring up xenophobia. The Catholic Church also denounced the petition.

The government’s first proposal to change the laws would have made it possible for foreigners born in Germany and for immigrants who had lived in the country for eight years to acquire full citizenship. Under the old system an applicant had to wait 15 years before applying. All children born in Germany with at least one German-born parent or one parent who arrived in the country before the age of 14 and who possess a residence permit could qualify. It is thought that around 3 million of the 7.4 million foreigners in Germany might become citizens as a result: 4.2 million would be automatically entitled to apply for citizenship. The proposals would also have made dual citizenship more possible although it would not be encouraged. Immigrants with criminal records and recipients of state welfare would be disqualified and applicants would have to be able to speak German and declare allegiance to the constitution. The proposed reform was based on a compromise between the SDP and the Greens, being less generous than the Greens wanted. Only third-generation 'foreigners' born in Germany would automatically receive citizenship.

According to research conducted by the Turkey Research Centre in Germany, half of German Turks would take out German citizenship if they could retain their Turkish citizenship, but three-quarters said they had no intention of returning to Turkey.

The CDU-CSU coalition chose regional elections in Hesse to focus on the issue, turning it into a national referendum. They succeeded, forcing out the Social Democrat-Green coalition in the February poll, ending its 8 years of government in the region. Chancellor Schröder attacked the right wing for stirring up racism and opening the door to far right extremists. SDP Chairman Oscar Lafontaine blamed the defeat on the new laws and called for a rethink of the proposals. As a result of the defeat, the SPD-Green coalition lost its majority in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament

In March the government approved the draft legislation for the new citizenship laws. Interior Minister Otto Schily said that the government wanted to fight xenophobia with 'a cosmopolitan and tolerant attitude'. But having lost its control of the Bundesrat, the government was obliged to strike a deal with the Free Democrat Party. Under the new deal, German-born children of immigrants can hold dual citizenship only until the age of 23, when they must choose. The compromise also excluded the provision for children born in Germany to become automatic citizens if at least one parent was German born or had arrived in the country before the age of 14. For adults, dual citizenship would be allowed only in exceptional cases. The Head of the Turkish Community Association in Germany, Hakki Keskin, criticised the revised draft and stated that it did not constitute a reform.

German right fights citizenship plan, Ian Traynor The Guardian 5.1.99; Debate rages in Germany over dual citizenship for foreigners, Turkish Daily News 8.1.99; Right wing wants to keep Germany for 'Germans', Imre Karacs Independent on Sunday 10.1.99; German government pushes ahead with nationality bill, Michael Adler Agence France Presse 13.1.99; CDU launches protests initiative, The Week in Germany 22.1.99; Survey of Germany: Both Turkish and German? The Economist 6.2.99; Schröder felled by the right in Hesse state poll, Hans Kundnani The Guardian 8.2.99; German Social Democrat head blames dual citizenship issue for election defeat, BBC monitoring international reports 8.2.99; German parties compromise on dual citizenship reform, Turkish Daily News 13.3.99; German government okays reform of immigration laws, Agence France Presse 16.3.99


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