Serbia: the effects of 1999 NATO bombing in Niš, Belgrade and Novi Sad

The dissolution of Yugoslavia is a complicated issue, there are many parties involved, many ethnic groups and many outside forces with their own special interests.  The separation of Macedonia, Croatia, Albania, Slovenia and Montenegro happened with little conflict but Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo had outside intervention from NATO.  So why did NATO heavily bomb Serbia for 78 days in 1999, without the approval of the UN Security Council against a country that didn’t pose a threat to any of the NATO member alliance?  The Serbs are asking the same question! 

The bombings led by the U.S. destroyed and damaged 25,000 housing units, 470 km of roads and 595 km of railways.  In addition, the following were also destroyed 14 airports, 19 hospitals, 87 schools, 176 cultural monuments and 44 bridges. Serbia is smaller than the state of Virginia, this is significant damage to a poor country where the average citizen earns less than $3000 USD a year.  I saw un-restored damage in all three cities I visited in Serbia:  Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis.

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Seventeen years after the bombing, Serbia has restored and repaired what it can but some sites proved too costly to repair or demolish so these structures still stand.  The Serbs I met don’t want to talk about war, in Serbia’s entire history the longest the country has ever been without is 40 years so they want to enjoy the peace while they still have it.  Serbia has over 100 wars fought on it’s land and Belgrade has been destroyed 40 times.  People keep living their normal lives, I noticed people live in the moment and make the most of the peaceful times. 

I was welcomed by all Serbs I met even though they talk about skepticism of the West including Europe.  The Serbs would like to be part of the EU but often feel isolated and talked down upon by the EU members.  Serbia has often been portrayed as the ‘bad boys’ of Europe and the Serbs have come to terms with this label.  In recent times all trade embargo from the EU has been lifted and the Schengen countries have dropped visa requirements from Serbian citizens. 

Crazy fact:  The U.S. airforce encountered it’s first and only loss of F-117 Stealth Fighter, the ‘invincible” plane.  The Serbs were able to detect the fighter with the obsolete Soviet radars leftover from the Socialist Era.  According to U.S. intelligence the remains of the plane were taken to the Chinese embassy in Belgrade for research so the U.S. bombed the Chinese Embassy and then later apologized that it was an error.  I heard a lot of these ‘error’ stories, where the NATO forces ‘accidentally’ hit residential areas killing thousands of civilians in Serbia.

Overall I can’t wait to return to Serbia and explore other parts of the country in the future.  Belgrade has a special place in my heart, the city has character, grit, sophistication and a level of playfulness.  I combination I haven’t seen in any other European cities I’ve visited.