Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Anniversary of NATO Bombing in Belgrade

Eight years ago the NATO bombing of Belgrade and other parts of Serbia began. The bombing started on March 24, 1999 and lasted for 78 days. According to various sources, there were between 1,200 and 2,500 fatalities in the country. During this time, damage was done to infrastructures, trade facilities, schools, hospitals, media facilities, and cultural monuments. Most bombs were successfully dropped on carefully selected structures, but there were grave mistakes as well. The destruction of the Chinese Embassy was one example.

Bombing in Belgrade
This weekend I went for a nice long walk along Knez Miloša in Belgrade. This street is also known as Embassy Street for all the embassies located there. As I entered the street from Senjak, the first building I saw was one of the bombed buildings. From the side, it looked like any Communist-era federal building, except that all the windows had been blasted out. Along the front, more significant damage could be seen, including parts that had collapsed. Trees have begun to grow on the collapsed roof. Ragged curtains fluttered in the breeze. Open cupboards revealed stacks of files still unclaimed - did no one need these files?

Further along, past the Canadian, American, and several other embassies was another bombed building. This terra-cotta brick building was significantly more damaged than others along the street. A skyway once connecting buildings across from each other was sliced off. Huge missing sections made it look a bit like a battle scene from Star Wars.

Why are such eyesores (and hazards) still standing? Is it lack of funds to demolish the buildings? Are they still there to act as reminders of the bombing campaign that most Serbians saw as unjust? Or is there another reason.

While walking one fall day with a friend and longtime resident of Belgrade, I saw a building that had one end shaved off. Pat explained that this used to be a TV station. She said that many young workers lost their lives one evening, after being commanded that they come to work or be fired - even though the boss was warned that the building was going to be bombed. Of course the boss wasn't there at the time.

Ecological Damage
About 60 km north of Belgrade lies Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia. During the bombing, three giant bridges were destroyed, covering the riverbed with 7,000 tons of debris. Cleared only in 2003, this debris has contributed to the increasing amount of pollution to the Danube River. NATO aircraft also destroyed 18 reservoirs at the Novi Sad refinery and five in Pančevo. This small town, located 10 km from Belgrade, lies right on the Danube River as well. The reservoirs were full of crude, and thousand of tons of its contents were spilled into the river. Chemical plants were also destroyed in Pančevo during the war, polluting the river and killing the fish. Needless to say, people were reluctant to eat fish for some time after.

Pyschological Damage
As with any conflict or war, the local people are invariably affected. At first, people stayed up during the night bombings, hunkered in shelters. Watching the bombing was almost like a fireworks show. Deciding life must go on, many tried to sleep through the noise of the bombs and aircraft. Enrollment at the International School was skeletal, kept alive by a dedicated core of teachers who didn't evacuate. Teachers weren't always sure if the bridge they normally took to get to school would be around the next day, but they adapted. One teacher even delivered a baby - without electricity. The economy, education, medical care, and other areas suffered during the bombing and sanctions, still not fully recovered. Psychologists have reported a rise in treatment of anxiety and post-traumatic stress distorders. That said, Serbians pride themselves in being strong and resilient and are confident that they will rise above this as well.

1 comment:

Janice Foy, Ph.D. said...

I also saw bombed out buildings (in the Croatian areas around Samobor), but they were from WW II! When I visited my cousin in Croatia (2000), I saw the areas that were hit by the Serbs and yes, all standing with their bullet holes, etc. I also saw cemetaries (purposefully targeted by Serb armies) that were totally devastated. It just takes a lot more time in countries that have fewer resources than we (USA) have to take away wars' horrible effects. What was fixed rather quickly was the damage done in the Dubrovnik area to all the historic buildings you saw. By the way, the walk around the walls used to be free!

(I had to keep from laughing when I read about Milosevic funding anything religious.)

As far as the menu goes, usually the food listed is rarely available. Welcome to their world - I try to leave my USA mindset at home when I am over there.

It is interesting to note that many areas that were Serb populated, are now mostly Muslim. I remember my cousin Nikola saying that his neighbors were Serbian, and turned totally against them during the war, and moved away. The war was a total concoction of the political leaders stirring up the populace against the Croats and the Muslims. I could already 'feel it' during my last research stay there in 1988. The economy was really bad back then which meant my dollar went very far - each hour my rate went up. I felt very sorry for the people I felt hopeless to help.

Please visit my website: http://www.bravo-la.com and read my goodwill tour trip to Croatia. I gave a concert in my cousin's village and have included photos and comments about the situation there. Definitely the US newspapers did not bring us the 'real news' - and look what is happening now in Iraq. One only knows the 'truth' by going to where the event is occurring and talk to the natives.

Hope you enjoyed your Croatian part of your trip. Do you have Croatian heritage or Serbian background?

Dovidenja, i sve najbolje (good bye and all the best) Janice Foy, Ph.D., 'cellist and director of Bravo! L.A.