By Inga Saffron, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: July 16, 1991
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Even 50 years later, the experience of being a refugee was exactly how Mia Jankovic remembered it. The suitcases bulging with clothes. The train compartments where whole families sat in straight-lipped silence. The moment when she descended from the train into the sooty grime of Belgrade's main station.
The first time Jankovic became a refugee it was 1941 and she was a child of 3. Croatian fascists had taken control of her home town of Glina, south of Zagreb. She has a memory of police dragging her father out of their house.
The next thing she recalls is sitting on a crowded train with her mother and brother. Later they found out her father had been killed.
This time it was her own husband she left behind.
Jankovic, a Serb, lived in Borovo, a small Croatian city where more than 30 people have died in fighting recently. Impelled by her childhood memories, Jankovic took her teenage daughter and joined the exodus of 20,000 Serbs who have fled the Croatian border region during the last two months of ethnic violence.
The violence started when two of Yugoslavia's republics - Croatia and Slovenia - began their campaign for independence from the national government, which is dominated by Serbs.
Jankovic's husband, a Slovene, refused to leave their home in Croatia.
"Although my husband loves us very much, he can't understand our feelings," Jankovic, a high school English teacher, said last week, a few days after arriving at a processing center for thousands of refugees coming into Belgrade. Because she fears for her husband's safety, she asked to be identified by her maiden name.
"I understand that it's war," she said. "I may never see my husband again. It happened to my mother. They took my father away, and she never saw him again," she said.
Among the older arrivals in Belgrade, second-time refugees are common. This is the 50th anniversary of the German invasion of Yugoslavia and the establishment of an independent fascist state in Croatia. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs were killed by the Croatian Ustashi regime, and thousands more fled.
In becoming a refugee again, Jankovic felt she was also losing her country. ''I don't think I will go back" to Croatia this time, she said. "The only homeland for me - and I start crying now - is Yugoslavia. I can't imagine my homeland cut to pieces."
At the refugee center in Belgrade, Jankovic translated for another woman, a biochemist who had just arrived from the village of Novi Gradiska with her three daughters.
The woman, who also asked not to be named, fled to Belgrade with her parents just before German troops arrived in March 1941. Now, she says, she wonders, "Why did we go back?" Her family has been forced out again.
She and her three daughters are staying with relatives in Belgrade, eight people in one small apartment.
The Yugoslavian Red Cross has processed 11,000 refugees and estimates that 10,000 more have come on their own. Some are leaving with the sound of bullets whizzing in their ears. Others don't want to stick around to wait for the shooting.
As people in the village of Borovo Selo described it last week, the fighting often begins with conflicts over authority between ethnic Croatian police and Serbian villagers, who make up a sizable minority in that part of Croatia.
Borovo Selo, a Serbian village near the larger city of Borovo, has been virtually under siege since fighting erupted May 2, after townspeople took two police officers hostage. The police had been trying to replace the Yugoslav federal flag with the new flag of the self-proclaimed independent state of Croatia.
The first wave of refugees to arrive from that battle showed up empty- handed, still dressed in their work clothes, said Kozomora Lorka, manager of the Red Cross center in Vajska, a Serbian town across the Danube from Borovo Selo.
Nearly 70 percent of the 7,000 area residents who followed them to Vajska are children, Lorka said. Most of the rest are women.
Now many of the small Serbian villages along the border of eastern Croatia are populated largely by men. In Borovo Selo, once a village of 9,000 people, bare-chested men with pistols and daggers strapped to their waists patrolled the nearly empty streets last week.
Telephone and postal service have been cut. The Serbs and the Croats trade gunfire nearly every night. With police blockades at either end of town, the only way out is by water.
In a sandy clearing on the edge of the Danube, Serbian volunteers are running a makeshift ferry service to bring the refugees across. Using rusted barges that have been lashed to fishing boats, these armed ferry pilots make dozens of trips each day between Borovo Selo and Vajska.
The steep, sandy bank on the Vajska side of the Danube is hardly suitable for the scale of the operation. Many refugees have started to bring their cars across on the barge ferry, but there is no ramp to get them up the bank. Every car that drove off the barge spun its wheels in the sand trying to make it uphill, and some needed to be pushed.
The other day, three trailer loads of refugee pigs and cattle came across by barge. They almost didn't make it. The owner of the pigs first tried hauling them up the bank with a small farm tractor. But before he reached level ground, the trailer broke loose and slid into the river, the pigs squealing in terror.
At this point, a dozen spectators rushed to save the pigs from sinking by putting stones under the wheels of the trailer. The farmer went to find a more powerful tractor.
Most of the people along the shore were expecting relatives from Borovo Selo. But because phone service in the village has been cut, no one knows for sure when they will arrive. Everyone seemed tense.
After the women and children had been driven safely to the Vajska refugee center, most of the men returned to the barge for the trip back to Borovo Selo and nearby villages. They said they would stay to defend their towns.
Nikola Grdinic, a wheat farmer who came from a tiny village near Osijek, said he was returning for a different purpose. He had already moved his family to the safety of Belgrade, but now he had business to tend to at home. Before leaving Croatia for good, he intended to burn his crops.
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