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America From Abroad : In Belgrade, U.S. Is Now Viewed as the Enemy : Those few Americans still living in the capital of Yugoslavia are rattled by fallout from the civil war.

April 27, 1993|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — The glass has been replaced in the American Center's display windows that were smashed by vandals a few weeks ago and the soot from two firebombs has been mostly washed away. Across town, at the U.S. Embassy, there remains no trace of the grenade tossed at the face of America in February.

But recent expressions of anti-American sentiment have left an indelible mark on the confidence of the few Americans who still make their home in Belgrade.

As the fearsome fallout of civil war and of the deprivations brought about by U.N. sanctions have spread across what remains of Yugoslavia, the American community has withered from hundreds of students, businessmen and government agency representatives to a few wary partners in mixed Yugoslav-American marriages and less than three dozen diplomats and Marines.

Until a few years ago, Yugoslav-American relations were a model of friendship and cooperation even though their respective governments were poles apart ideologically.

The Communists' monopoly on power has been broken, but nationalist zealots have taken their place, plunging the former Yugoslav federation into the bloodiest war to rack Europe in half a century and poisoning relations between Yugoslav Serbs and the West.

The near-collapse of political ties has decimated the American community's ranks and strained even social relations to such a nerve-shattering degree that even the last holdouts are considering moving away.

"No one has said, 'I'm not coming back after summer vacation,' but it's always in the back of your mind. When I travel I take my diplomas with me," said Patricia Andjelkovic, a Pennsylvania native who teaches French at Belgrade's international school and has been married for 16 years to a Yugoslav engineer.

Washington has recently taken the lead in calls for military force to curb Serbian aggression--a move that has rattled the Americans still here, fearing that they could become targets of retaliation by an increasingly hostile regime.

"Every time there is talk about military intervention, people get nervous here," said one U.S. Embassy employee who was hoping to wait until the end of the school year to relocate his wife and children. "If there is going to be anything in the way of military intervention, I would not want my family here and I don't think I would want to be here either."

Belgrade's highly propagandistic media recently cast the United States as the chief antagonist in what is perceived by the region's 12 million Serbs as a global conspiracy to deny them unity and self-rule.

Germany and the Vatican have long occupied the top spots on Serbia's ever-growing list of enemies. But the strengthening U.S. campaign for military intervention to stop Serbian aggression in Bosnia-Herzegovina has, at least for the past week, elevated America above historic foes.

TV Serbia last week aired a documentary on the U.S. bombing of Belgrade in 1944--a strike aimed at its Nazi occupiers but cast in the new film as an example of the perfidy Serbs must expect of their erstwhile allies.

State-run newspapers have carried extensive details of the latest appeals by U.S. officials for punitive actions against Serbia to break their armed struggle for an expanded state.

Angry demonstrations against the 10-month-old U.N. sanctions have recently been directed at the U.S. government, such as a protest this month by hundreds of doctors and medical workers who blamed the measures for 42 infant deaths.

Random acts of vandalism against visible American objects--like the embassy and the American Center--have intensified concerns that Americans are becoming the scapegoats for the suffering and disorder Yugoslavs have brought on themselves during two years of war.

The official "satanization" of America, as one diplomat called it, has so far failed to infect the general population. Most of those still here say they do not feel particularly vulnerable, but they caution that all bets are off if the West moves militarily to punish the Serbs.

The U.S. State Department has already reduced its staff at the embassy here from more than 100 two years ago to a ceiling of 35, including the Marine guards, said embassy spokesman Dave Hamill.

No further drawing down has been announced in the wake of tighter sanctions that came into effect Monday, Hamill said, and he declined to specify what protective measures might be taken in the event Washington decides in favor of military intervention.

"We've always had contingency plans and 'what ifs,' but I can't say anything concrete about those plans," Hamill said.

One Marine serving in Belgrade confided that the detachment has been advised to keep a low profile, to avoid places where they are likely to come into contact with locals who have been drinking and to vary the routine of solo activities--like jogging--to guard against becoming a target.

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