Yugoslav Ministry of Defence building, it is the main of the bombed buildings of Belgrade unrestored. It is at the crossroad between Kneza Miloša and Nemanjina. Picture by OTW editorial staff. licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Yugoslav Ministry of Defence building at the crossroad between Kneza Miloša and Nemanjina

Open wounds. The bombed buildings of Belgrade

There is an instant of perfect silence, perfect stillness. A little dot appears in the sky. It is falling quietly, as in a slow motion, becoming increasingly bigger. It looks something like a candy, a little toy, something innocent, something harmless, till it gently touches the building.

There is an instant of perfect silence, perfect stillness. A little dot appears in the sky. It is falling quietly, as in a slow motion, becoming increasingly bigger. It looks something like a candy, a little toy, something innocent, something harmless, till it gently touches the building. The building trembles a bit, it looks that it tries to snuggle up as in a sweet attempt to avoid that gentle touch, but there is no escape. Suddenly the noise of the explosion breaks out into the air, the walls are turned into pieces that scatters over the streets, a rain of glasses bounces on the asphalt, a cloud of dust is all over. Then, the same noise, again and again and again. The city screams, death arrived. NATO is bombing Belgrade.

It was the 7th of May 1999, today is a summer morning of 2017, the war is over but not all the wounds has been healed. At the crossroad between Kneza Miloša and Nemanjina, a stone throw from Belgrade Central Station, the Yugoslav Ministry of Defence building (Serbian: Savezni Sekretarijat za Narodnu Odbranu) still shows what war is. It is one of the bombed buildings of Belgrade not restored.

Yugoslav Ministry of Defence building, it is the main of the bombed buildings of Belgrade unrestored. It is at the crossroad between Kneza Miloša and Nemanjina. Picture by OTW editorial staff. licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Yugoslav Ministry of Defence building, the most representative of the bombed buildings of Belgrade

The building occupies the two side of Nemanjina Street, a wide boulevard and important arterial of Belgrade. Both side has been devastated. Entire sections are missed, some are opened has if they were been cut with an axe, roofs and floors collapsed, metal poles like deformed bones stripped out from a corp. Beauty has been ruined once again. The building date back to 1965, it was designed by Nikola Dobrović to resemble the canyon of the Sutjeska River where an important battle of the Second World War opposed the Axis to the Serbian Partisan Forces leaded by Tito. The street acts as a river dividing the two monumental buildings. Since 2005 it has been listed as a protected monument of culture and it has the purpose to rember the wrath of the 1999 NATO bombing of Belgrade. It is just one of the bombed buildings of Belgrade.

At number 10 of Takova Street the Radio Television of Serbia suffered the same destiny. It was bombed on 23th of April 1999, 16 people were killed, mostly they were simply technicians. Amnesty International declared the NATO attack as a war crime.

Radio Television of Serbia is one of the many bombed buildings of Belgrade unrestored. It is in the middle of the city center, half of the building has been wiped out by the bombs. Picture by On Travel Writing editorial staff, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Radio Television of Serbia at number 10 of Takova Street

Half of the building has been deleted by a bomb, what remains is a section that allow us to browse into the intimacy of the architecture, that secret inner part that is never shown. Besides the bombed building a new one has been built and close to it a small monument commemorating the victims.

The view of the bombed buildings of Belgrade is unreal. It is an alive wound testify the war but all around the life flows normally, it is like when you see those plants growing up from a dead trunk. People pass by and looks they do not notice the ruins. Perhaps it is just my impression, even if they do not turn their eyes up to the ruins they perfectly know the marks of the bombs are there. Many of the locals who are passing here witnessed the bombing with their own eyes.

War has been just words in my mind, words of my father who witnessed the second World War as a child, words of Spanish elders who witnessed and fought the Civil War, words of migrants escaped from middle east, or monuments, works of art devoted to the memory of the horror, but for the people of Belgrade war is a physic element of the landscape, a constant presence in their daily life. It is hard understand how this affects them.

Close up on a permanente protest set up in front of the National Assembly in Belgrade. The war is still an unsorted problem. The bombed building of Belgrade are an importa heritage. Picture by ontravelwiriting.com edtorial staff, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
National Assembly. A permanent protest is taking place against NATO.

Belgrade is a sparkling city with an intense nightlife, people look projected to the future more than to past. It looks that a so close sight of death and ruins gave them a true perception of the frailty of life and a pure desire to live every moment with the intensity it deserves.

But it could be just my impressions. War is not a forbidden argument, it comes out quite easily during a conversation especially if the question is not straight: sure if they have to tell you what about Serbia now a day the war has to be taken into account. But the comments stand on a politic ground, I could just wonder about what they feel when they look at the bombed buildings of Belgrade. The general perception is that the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia has been an aggression, that the Balkan war has been one more business paid with life by many people.

Officially NATO declared the war a Humanitarian intervention to stop the ethnic cleaning in Kosovo, by the way the bombing of Serbia has been the first NATO military intervention carried on without the approval of the UN Security Council. I think war has never other reasons but power and money. I feel even something funny in the fact that war is pointed as humanitarian… It sounds as when colonialism was a good way to educate savages.

I  do not try to find who is the good and who is the evil on a moral ground (war awakes the worst insticts in all human being) but just I am firmly convinced that war is never because of good reasons, it is never humanitarian. Nobody risks power and resources just for the sake of the human world, otherwise the world would be different and different would be our politicians.

What is sure is that the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia did not strike only military targets but bridges, infrastructures, factories, the Chinese Embassy (For many has been a meditated message to the East…). Noam Chomsky claimed that the Deputy Secretary of State under President Clinton and the leading U.S. negotiator during the war, had written in his foreword to John Norris’ 2005 book Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo that “the real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians”, but rather “It was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neo-liberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated”. It is easy to believe: the signs of the most aggressive capitalism are all over Belgrade, all over Sarajevo, all over Bosnia. I think nobody forgot the reasons for the US attack of Iraq: weapons of mass destruction that has never been found.

View from far of one of the bombed buildings of Belgrade. Life around flows noramally, but the memory of the war is far to be forgotten
Bombed buildings of Belgrade Credit Michael Tyler

The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia is just one more chapter of the same old story: war for power. The open wounds of the bombed buildings of Belgrade, as the Sarajevo Rose, testify that war never stopped, that we never learnt, that the reasons never changed, only the excuses.

Gabi

I am Gabi, an itinerant traditional music player and storyteller, founder and content writer of OTW.

Add comment

See full screen

Archives