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By Erin Rogers '01
Few Colby students have ever experienced what Ana Prokic '04 has endured for a decade. "I'm 19 now," Prokic said. "The only thing I can remember is wars."
Prokic is from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, in Yugoslavia, where Slobodan Milosevic's troubled reign recently ended and President Vojislav Kostunica took office. Prokic is also a Colby freshman and recent graduate of Armand Hammer United World College (UWC) in New Mexico, a two-year pre-university school that for Prokic was a dream come true. Some might say she was due.
Prokic has a younger sister who was only 3 when the war began. Her mother is a nurse in a military hospital, and her father is a clerk in a company that manufactures paint. He was drafted when the fighting started; to protect her young daughters, Prokic's mother had to lie to her daughters about their father's whereabouts: "My mother kept telling me he was just in military practice somewhere inside the country. . . I found out from a cousin that I was staying with that he was out at warshe didn't know that I didn't know."
Prokic left home when she was 16 and, accustomed as she was to wartime, there still were "some really tough moments," she said. She weathered them and came to Colby thanks to the Davis United World College Scholars Program. Trustee Andrew Davis '85 and his father, Shelby M.C. Davis, promised to fund any student from any of the nine United World Colleges who gains admittance to one of five selected institutions and demonstrates financial need. "[Shelby Davis] is the person I'll remember until the end of my life," Prokic said. "Giving that much money to someone and just trusting someone with that much responsibility is a great thing."
After Yugoslavia's presidential election ended Milosevic's reign in early October, Prokic's homeland entered a new era. "The feeling among people has changed overnight," she said. And the future? "Normal things like everyone else has; that's what we're hoping for. We're not expecting billions of dollars, just people having regular salaries, kids being able to go to school, parents being able to afford stuff for their kids without wondering whether they'll be able to buy milk the next week."
She regretted that she was not home to share her family's excitement when President Kostunica was inaugurated. Since Prokic's move to the U.S., she only spends summers at home. Even that has been dangerous.
During the summer of 1999, when war in Yugoslavia had reached the heart of Belgrade, Prokic's mentors at UWC thought it was too dangerous to send her back to Serbia. But the worries of war were not enough to keep her from her family.
Communicating with home had become a struggle, and she was tired of it. Once, Prokic said, she was watching television and heard that the military hospital in Belgrade where her mother works as a nurse had been bombed. Six hours passed before she finally was reassured her mother was okay. "For me the most important thing was to be with my family," she said. Prokic flew to Budapest and her parents met her at the border between Serbia and Hungary. She was not prepared for what she saw when she got home: Belgrade, a city of 2.5-million people, in complete darkness. "I just couldn't believe I was there," she said. "The spirit of people was gone."
Now that spirit is beginning to return. Prokic will be going home in May, hoping to find a home very different from the one she left. "What I'm hoping for is a change, just a better life for everyone in the country."
She also hopes that people will stop considering Serbs enemies because of the wars of the past 10 years. Watching television in the United States and seeing media portrayals of Serbs has been difficult, Prokic said. "A year ago we were murderers and terrorists and there was every possible justification for bombing our country." Now Serbs are portrayed as victims of a corrupt government who were finally able to win their freedom, she said. "I just want people to understand we don't think about killing people. We don't get together at a coffee table and talk about the next war we'll have."
Prokic doesn't blame anyone for the troubles in Yugoslavia. No one won the war, she said, "there were just a lot of dead people and a destroyed country and that's about all we got out of it." She also doesn't understand the racial conflict that tore her country apart. "I have friends who are Albanians, Croatians, Muslims and it completely doesn't matter, to me or to them. It's not about what your passport says or where you're from. It's about who you are."
At Colby, Prokic plans to study international relations, psychology and German. Her goal after graduation is to study international law and eventually help countries like her own in political and economic distress. In the meantime, her pride in her country has not waned. During the inauguration of Colby's new president, Bro Adams, Colby's international students carried the flags of their home countries. "I was never more proud to stand under that flag," Prokic said. "I love my country. I love the people there. I love everything about it."
The Colby Difference: The Inauguration of William D. Adams
Nuclear Fiction: Daniel Traister '63 Delves Into the Fiction of World War II
The Hot Zone and the Cold War: Frank Malinoski '76 Investigates Biological Warfare
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