Slobodan Markovic on Wed, 2 Jun 1999 20:18:32 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Belgrade's new bunker mentality

War in The Balkans - Belgrade's new bunker mentality

By Robert Fisk in Belgrade
Independent (6-2-99)

On Sunday, they came at dawn, the smoke rising above the
Belgrade suburbs in a grey blanket, the thump of bombs
broken by the bells of the early 19th-century Church of
the Communion and the scream of starlings. On Monday
night, they arrived just after dusk to bomb the Bezanijska
Kosa power station and plunge us all into darkness. So when
Ljubo Ososlija turned up for coffee at my hotel yesterday
morning with wounds on his legs and feet, he had a bone
to pick with Nato.

"I was just walking with a neighbour and we were 200 metres
from the power station when we saw the first missile," he
said, sipping Turkish coffee because the hotel has run out
of espresso. "The second one got me. It blew me five feet
in the air and almost broke my leg." Ososlija is a publisher
who is signing up volunteers to pay for new volumes of best-
selling fiction and children's stories: all profits are spent
on the purchase of cigarettes for soldiers at the front. Nato,
of course, bombed the tobacco factories more than a month ago.

Like Ososlija, I hadn't taken a shower yesterday. The power
cuts have stopped the water supply again. My taps roar at
me like a sick lion and the red plastic bucket on my balcony
collects an inch of grey rainwater from Belgrade's polluted
skies; definitely not for brushing my teeth, maybe just enough
to flush the toilet. No power, no water, no cigarettes.

In Brussels and London and Paris, you might be forgiven for
believing that Nato's wishful thinking represents reality;
that Serbia is on its knees, that its people are on the verge
of insurrection. But returning to Belgrade after a month away
is a weird experience. The mood is harder, more cynical, more
resigned. The moment I walked into the candlelit office of The
Independent's Belgrade travel agent, I was met with fury. "This
is not a war like you people claim," he shouted. "It's an attack.
If I was ordered to go down to Kosovo now, I would go at once and
fight there. Here I sit and wait and can do nothing. We cannot fight
back. But you don't understand the mentality of the Serbs. We are
stubborn. At the beginning of this, I might have given up. But now,
I will never give up."

I heard much the same from the icon-seller on the end of Knez
Mihailova street. A bearded refugee from Krajina - the most
unreported "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans, presumably because
the Serbs had the cleansing done to them rather than the other way
round - he offered me a black Angel Gabriel painted on the back of
a broken wooden floorboard. He wanted only 65p.

"Nato told the Hague tribunal to charge Milosevic and I know what that
means," he said, leaning against his wall opposite the Tsar Cafe.
"Nato is burning Milosevic. The Americans won't be able to negotiate
with someone they call a war criminal. So they don't want to talk.
They don't want [Viktor] Chernomyrdin [the Russian envoy to the
Balkans] to succeed. So the war will go on."

There's a new joke going the rounds - even Goren Martic, a
Yugoslav government minister was passing it on yesterday -
based on the premise that Nato will always sabotage peace
hopes when the Russians try to negotiate. "Watch out!" the
joke goes. "Chernomyrdin's coming back."

And it sometimes feels like that. Every night, the jets go
for Rakovica where, so rumours have it, the Yugoslav military
hierarchy work from a bunker deep beneath the airfield runways.
"They're trying to destroy the bunker but they don't know exactly
where it is," a Serb friend says. "It was built after the break-up
of the old Yugoslavia - the Bosnians and the Croats who were in the
Yugoslav army don't know its location so they can't give it to the

But the real bunker lies, I suspect, within every Serb. Not so
much the stubborness that my travel agent talked of. Certainly
not any maniacal loyalty to President Slobodan Milosevic. More
a refusal to lie down, an absolute unwillingness to accept the
demands of foreign powers, right or wrong.

True, the Serbs are not being told of the terrors visited
upon the Albanians of Kosovo. Only opposition news agencies
report an anti-war rally banned in Cacak and the sentencing
of three military conscripts to almost five years' imprisonment
for failing to return to their units. But even the chairman of
the Cacak municipal assembly is now saying that his protest was
of "a civil and patriotic character", one that shared every Serb's
 abhorrence of "Nato aggression".

I've come across only one man who has been truly broken by the
bombings. I saw him last a month ago, weeping in the arms of
his neighbours and promising to commit suicide because he had
survived the Nato bomb that killed his wife, son,
daughter-in-law and and all his grandchildren in Surdulica.

Back in the town on Monday - after Nato had killed another 18
innocents when it scored a direct hit on the local hospital -
I asked a friend of Vojeslav Milic if he had recovered. The man
shook his head. "Voja is very bad," he said. "He has a big poster
of photographs of all the members of his family who died - and now
he goes around town and sticks their pictures to the windscreens of
parked cars. We try to keep him sedated. In the past two weeks he
has tried to kill himself twice."

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