Sasha Milicevic, sociologist and professor of peace and conflict studies at Colgate, is no stranger to ethnic crisis. Milicevic, originally from Serbia, visits her family there almost every summer. Visiting her home country provides her with the opportunity to catch up with relatives, but it also allows her to do what sociologists call “participant observation.”
Serbia has had its share of troubles in the last decade and a half, including political instability, frustration with the totalitarian leader Slobaodan Milosevic, a mass genocide at Srebrenica by Serbian extremists in which 8,000 people were massacred in four days, and the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
Milicevic received her Bacholer of Arts in sociology from the University of Belgrade. She also studied at the Central European University in Prague and at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where she received her doctorate.
While in graduate school, she was granted several fellowships, the most significant a Peace Scholar Fellow through the Jennings Randolph Program for International Peace at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Before coming to Colgate, Professor Milicevic was a lecturer at UCLA. Last year she was a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow in Peace Studies at Colgate.
Milicevic has participated in rallies and vigils in Serbia since 1990. This summer she started a new project with a colleague from Clark University, Eric Gordy, to examine the social aspects of war memories.
“The war ended ten years ago and yet the memories of war are still negotiated,” Milicevic said. “For many people in Serbia it is still very difficult to come to terms with what happened and what was done on their behalf and in their name.”
Milicevic is involved with an organization called Women in Black; the organization holds rallies at which its members gather in the center of Belgrade and stand in silence for one hour in memoriam to the war victims. This year, which marked the tenth anniversary of the genocide, the vigil was attacked by neo-Nazi groups who organized counter-protests and used tear gas. The women were forced to disperse and return later.
The rally was a memorable experience for Professor Milicevic, especially considering the fact that the entire commemoration was filmed and later broadcast. An important lesson that Milicevic learned was the necessity of careful planning and preparedness when entering a rally or any other form of protest.
“It is not usually part of the training that you receive in graduate school when you are doing Ph.D. and sociology work; no one tells you, ‘If you are going to do participantobservation of the protest, you should really pay attention to which way the wind goes in case they throw tear gas at you so that you can get out of the way.'”
The economic situation in Serbia is better than it was five or six years ago, due in part to rallies like the one Milicevic attended. However, the political situation began to worsen after the assassination of Djindjic, who had instituted many reforms.
Milicevic believes that nationalist parties are once again gaining support.
In her classes, Milicevic often leads discussions about issues like why people are the way they are and why they tend to use violence in different situations.
“It is really hard to talk about these horrible things and one asks who would commit these crimes, thinking that they are probably horrible people,” Milicevic said. “But I’m a sociologist and I teach ethnic conflict, and I know that these are ordinary people that look like you and me.”