Tuesday, March 25, 2008

1999 NATO Bombing Anniversary

Monday, March 24 marked the 9th anniversary of the NATO bombing on Serbia, known then yet as Yugoslavia. Thankfully, the commemoration went peacefully, with leading Belgrade officials laying wreaths on monuments and graves of some of the victims. A memorial service was held at St. Mark's church downtown.

A brief history
For 78 days, 19 Allied members began bombing regions of Serbia and Kosovo, with some of the first bombs targeted at Belgrade. The estimated number of people killed is set between 1,200 and 2,500 people including 89 children. Over 10,000 people were injured. One of the first casualties occurred at 2am on the 24th, killing 16 (mainly young) employees at the state RTS TV station almost right next to the St. Mark's Church where today's service was held. Other bombed sites in Belgrade included the Yugoslav Army General Staff building, the Chinese Embassy, a downtown hospital, several other military buildings, fuel tanks, virtually all RTS transmitters, and the nearby Avala TV tower.
Throughout the country bridges, military sites, and places such as a chemical plant were bombed.

Some of the bombed buildings, such as the RTS (above) building and military building (right) were never repaired. Nor is there money to tear them down.

The NATO air strikes ended on June 10 when the United Nations adopted the Resolution 1244.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Belgrade riots - update

Although it's been a month since the protests in Belgrade erupted that February evening, the calm on the streets has not rolled back time. Plywood has replaced most of the windows on the lower floor of the US Embassy. Paint has covered up some of the scorch marks, while others are quite evident. The outer layer of the treated window glass in the street level entrance of the embassy retains its web-like shatteredness. Inside, things are very quiet, with non-essentsential personnel evacuated. Elsewhere along Knez Milosa "aka embassy row", some diplomatic buildings remain gated and a couple with faded paint marking where their country's emblem signs once hung, gone along with the diplomats.

At school things are quieter as well. Desks of US Steel and US embassy children still remain empty. Classmates miss their friends who had to leave so suddenly - some never to return. Aside from some British families, most of the kids remaining at school are non-native English speakers, which makes instruction and group work a bit more challenging. We were also short a few teachers, two temporarily away to assist the evacuated students at their temporary schools, and one ordered to evacuate due to her status as a non-essential embassy family member status. The hope is that if Belgrade remains calm through the soon-to-be anniversary of the 1999 NATO bombing, then some will be able to return to Belgrade and back to school.

Even if the anniversary passes quietly, it will take some time before Serbia can begin to erase its negative, violent perception in the eyes of the world. It is my hope that with the new elections in May (the prime minister stepped down), a more EU-focused government can help move the country forward and away from potential isolationism.

Beginnings of Spring

Walking in Belgrade during mid-March can be a pleasure. The warmth of the rays along with the blue skies beckons people to come forth from their homes. The simple melody of a songbird can be heard once more. Bulb flowers have emerged from their slumber and annuals are for sale, the local farmer with his makeshift stands on milk crates. The fruit trees are in blossom, their delicate whites and pinks giving off a gentle perfume. The forsythia bushes are a golden yellow, particularly striking against a blue sky. Every day, the leaves of the tall chestnut trees are released from their tight fist, soon to make the lined streets green once more.
The café chairs have been taken outside, arranged for outdoor customers as soon as the city ordinance permits. Locks on the ice cream freezers have been taken off, its contents ready for the first customers of the season. Soccer season has begun and construction - well, it's never stopped!