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Slobodan Markovic: Belgrade (was) Under The Bombs

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Date: Sun, 13 Jun 1999 00:55:48 +0200
From: Slobodan Markovic <twiddle@EUnet.yu>
Subject: Belgrade (was) Under The Bombs

[Maybe it's a bit late  :-)  but here's a good article about
Dr. Jan Oberg's visit to Belgrade. It excellently presented
the situation here... At least, I agree with most of the points
presented in the text... Mr. Jan Oberg is head of the TFF
Conflict-Mitigation team to the Balkans and Georgia. BTW,
TFF stands for: Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future
Research, Lund, Sweden:   --Sloba]


Report from a visit

June 1, 1999

"The lack of empathy and solidarity with the 11 million citizens of the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia whose society is being destroyed is as
amazing as it is deplorable. Remember when people of culture, science,
politics, media and humanism flocked to Sarajevo when it was under siege?
Where are they now? Journalists flock to Macedonia and Albania - admittedly
for very good reasons - and they flock to NATO's well-staged press
briefings. But seeing for oneself what it means to be the object of the
worst military, economic and social destruction in Europe since 1945 seems,
remarkably, not to be as good a reason," says TFF director Jan Oberg and
adds that the most urgent peace activity now is to protest the bombs here
and go there.

Where are those who believe Yugoslavia is a dictatorship? Supporting fellow
human beings suffering under dictatorship is a noble reason to go but those
around the world who hold this view stay away. Where are the human rights
activists when numerous human rights are being violated by NATO? Where is
the sympathy with innocent citizens who endure the systematic destruction
of a European society and capital in the name of Western civilization?

So much for humanism, intellectualism and civil courage at the end of the
20th century. In spite of the war, it is perfectly possible to go there and
freely meet anyone you like. I did that," says Dr. Oberg. "It is
mind-boggling that even intellectuals seem to be able to hold only two
categories in their head at a time: if you are anti-NATO's bombings, you
must automatically be pro-Milosevic or pro-Serb. Or, if you go there, you
support the regime and is disloyal to the West. I am afraid that those who
hide behind such banal dichotomies are responsible for a gross
civilisational injustice done to every and all citizens in today's

I believe it is possible to be against all the violence -
Yugoslav/Serbia's, that of the Albanians and NATO's. None of them will help
solve the original problem of mistrust between Serbs and Albanians. All of
them have made the situation worse. And I believe it should be possible to
recognise and respect the human suffering of all sides - that of the
Albanians, the Serbs and that of every other group in all of Serbia and

Yugoslavia has 25 national/ethnic categories, a majority of Serbs and
Yugoslavs and 650.000 Serb refugees from Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and the
Kosovo-province. Evidently, in international politics and media their lives
and human rights do not count - as refugees in, say, Africa don't count -
as much as those of other peoples'. Painful to say, this tendential racism
- the view that Third World people, Serbs and Yugoslavs are 'Untermenschen'
- is a fact of today's Western civilization. UNHCR spends about 11 cents a
day per refugee in Africa. In the Balkans, the figure is $1.23, more than
11 times greater, as Los Angeles Times recently reported (see:

The international so-called 'community' indicts President Milosevic and a
handful of leaders. It's doubtful that they will ever end up in the Hague.
But those who are suffering under this leadership are being killed,
punished, isolated and humiliated by NATO. Any taxi driver in Belgrade will
tell you with sardonic humour: "We only have two problems: 12 years with
Milosevic and now NATO's bombs, otherwise everything is fine here!"

Yugoslavia's opposition, independent intellectuals and peace movements will
tell you exactly the same: 'You, the West, is making everything so much
more difficult for us now - and a generation's time ahead. What are your
real interests? We are the ones who WANT to be part of the modern world,
who STRUGGLE for a democratic Yugoslavia and DESIRE integration with the
West. Don't you understand how counterproductive these bombs are to us?'

Oberg continues, "I watch the heavy bombs and cruise missiles fall at night
- 'successfully' according to NATO's spokesmen a few hours later. I hear
the roaring thunder of the explosions. I feel the shaking of the building
and ground. I note sirens at any time of the day and the night, NATO
permits no one to sleep for long. I feel the rage inside, the utter
meaninglessness, my own powerlessness and humiliation in the face of mighty
high-tech destruction and I think, 'this is my culture, it is my political
leaders who do or support this.' I know now how true it is that one has to
be there to sense it and I experience how much stop working when we are
without electricity - water pumps, cookers, street lights, computers,
phones. There is only one word for what I feel: I am ashamed of the culture
that does this."

"I walk around Belgrade and Novi Sad to see the surreal landscapes of
destroyed buildings, bridges, ministries, police stations, hotels, radio-
and TV stations, apartment houses, schools and embassies. The oil refinery
in Novi Sad is still burning, three weeks after the hit. What was once big
trees are now black, charred stumps. I know it is different, but it reminds
me of images of Hiroshima.

I experience how life becomes harder by the day. People don't sleep at home
if it is close to a potential target. They queue for cigarettes and other
luxuries. They shop for hours for certain foodstuffs and medicine and care
for the old, the sick and the handicapped in ways they didn't have to
before. So many ask me what the chances are to get their children out -
thousands already have fled abroad. Men between 18 and 65 may be called up
any day. Below-the-minimum-of-existence-salaries and pensions are paid,
months after they should have been. Life is ruined when big industries in
small towns are destroyed. People plan what to do to get their parents,
their children, their animals and themselves in safety, if... Life is now
one big IF.

People generally put up a brave face, quite defiant, actually. They seem
not aggressive but rather pitying countries with so much military and so
little intellectual and moral power. Many find Western civilization
barbaric and ridiculous, its leaders conceited. Should anybody think that
this is a citizenry that will give up soon, a visit to Yugoslavia will help
cure that delusion.

I listen to courageous, independent-minded people in academia and NGOs
telling me that I must no longer expect constructive social activism, not
even anti-NATO protests on the bridges at night. 'We are at war, it's
dangerous, we may be seen as fifth column;  hardline politicians have
published lists of potential 'traitors.' They refer not only to the last
sixty-some days but to the last 10-12 years when Yugoslavia has been
demonized, under sanctions and otherwise isolated. 'We can't travel, we no
longer know what the future will bring - land invasion, civil war, poverty?
More than one million demonstrated for change in 1997 but we got no Western
support. We are simply exhausted.'

BBC reports that, according to Serb sources - that we have been told we
can't trust - a hospital has been hit. It's pretty easy to verify the truth
when in Belgrade. I find less propaganda here than in the West and this
place is at war, the West is not. It bombs Yugoslav media and force
Eutelsat to stop broadcasting Serbian television, so they cannot inform
citizens in the West of the consequences of  NATO's aggression. The Dutch
government refused to grant visas to anyone with a Yugoslav passport
seeking to participate in the Haag Peace Conference earlier this months -
while Kosovo-Albanian refugees correctly got theirs."

Says Jan Oberg, "I have begun to wonder whether there is any decency, any
sense of fairness, any true humanity left when all the above causes little
protest throughout the West. Perhaps Western leaders had become too
ecstatic with their own triumphalist power after 1989 and could use a
wake-up call to reality: that there are limits to naked power, to double
standards, to ignorance, to megalomania and to pop ideology. NATO's getting
stuck here may be it.
After all, the Yugoslavs have helped the West before."

For security reason, Oberg was prevented from going to the Kosovo province.
He will try again during his forthcoming mission to Macedonia.

 TFF 1999

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Dr. Jan Oberg
Director, head of the TFF Conflict-Mitigation team
to the Balkans and Georgia


Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone +46-46-145909 (0900-1100)
Fax +46-46-144512