I am a Williams student currently studying in Denmark. I think that being abroad during this conflict has given me a unique perspective on the situation in Yugoslavia, especially having spent a week in Moscow spanning the time of the riots at the U.S. Embassy there.
Danish opinion here seems to be very skeptical in general of the recent bombings in Yugoslavia. The concept is that bombing one country into a forced peace treaty is no way to forge a lasting peace. Any outcome will be contrived and its stability will necessarily be dependent upon a continued U.S. (NATO) presence. I think that there is obviously an unbalance of power in the region that will need to be settled or rebalanced before a new order and lasting peace will be able to be developed. Of course, the atrocities perpetrated by all sides of the conflict are terrible and should not be allowed by the international community. However, bombing one partisan will not do anything to prevent further horrors, and may even provoke more violence.
Students in Russia are of course almost unanimously opposed to NATO bombing in Yugoslavia. They feel patriotic ties to the Serbs as they are related by Slavic ancestry. When I asked one of them why she thought it was okay for Milosevic to be killing so many innocent people, she asked me why we did not bomb Britain when they killed Irish.
But the main point I would like to talk about is the American media coverage of the events at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. I was surprised to get a frantic call from my father the day I arrived back in Copenhagen. He was worried because I had (of course) “forgotten” to call the family while in Russia. I was surprised to find that the media had been giving consistent coverage to an egg-splattered embassy and crowds of punks flicking off news cameras. I was of course aware of these events in Moscow, and even bussed passed the Embassy two days after the “attack.” There were no mobs hanging out there. Of course while traveling as a group of tourists we got many icy looks, and while visiting Moscow University there was no lack of “F—k USA”s scrawled in marker on doorways. A friend and I were even confronted by a group of young Russian men wanting to know (supposedly) what we thought about the bombings, being American.
However, even the people we talked to who expressed the strongest attitudes against NATO’s actions reassured us that the mobs at the embassy, and especially the “bazooka man,” were an extreme, isolated minority. (I think that you have to question either the credibility or intentions of a gunman who plans an attack on an embassy and then can not manage to fire a round in two tries.) From what I experienced both from being in the city with a group of Americans and from venturing into shops and restaurants on my own or with one other person, this opinion certainly seemed to be the case.
At the time my friends and I wondered how the American press was covering the events, indeed, even if they were covering them. They seemed that insignificant to us at the time. I think that this is one of those rare instances when we as Americans need to ask ourselves what biased version of the story Tom Brokaw is feeding us. The feelings that Americans develop now about Russian punks could have very serious consequences down the road, especially if that is the only impression of the Russian people they have. Imagine the impression anyone would have of our country had their understanding been based only upon racists who drag people behind pickup trucks (a misconception that occurs more often than any American would care to believe).
Russia is a beautiful and interesting place, full of proud but mostly good people, especially considering the turmoil that capitalism is putting the country through. It would be a shame to squander the opportunity to learn from and trade with their old and rich culture by replacing old barriers.