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Serbians have different view of NATO bombs


For days my wife and I were glued to our television, listening to horrific refugee stories, including forced evacuation, the carting off and execution of boys and men, rape and other hideous crimes. Overwhelmed at one point, my wife asked, “Should we go to volunteer in the camps?”

Meanwhile, NATO’s bombing campaign escalates daily, widening targets from military to civilian quarters. The stories of those living under the bombs have been less available on our televisions. But they are available on the internet at Kosovo-reports, which can be found at [ www.egroups.com/group/kosovo-reports ]

(The following is from a professor in Belgrade, capital of Yugoslavia and Serbia.)

For a moment my heart skipped a beat. Another bomb. I’ve heard hundreds of them in these past three weeks, yet one never gets used to that brief sense of losing control. You first feel something like a slight increase of pressure in your ears. Before you can do anything about it you hear the explosion, and at the same time the window panes start vibrating. ... And then, as you find that, once again, someone else was the target of the day, there is the slow process of quieting your heart, of lowering the blood pressure. Breathe in, breathe out -- slowly. Go walk to the fridge, pour a glass of mineral water. Breathe in, breathe out. I put the glass down, stare at my [computer] keyboard.

Together with the previous night’s bombings most of the TV stations in Belgrade are off the air. From the distribution of the TV relay antennas leveled tonight, my guess is that only a few local TV stations are working in all of Serbia. All four of the nationwide TV networks have been crippled. The destruction of Serbia’s TV stations is probably the prelude to the felling of Belgrade’s bridges. The three largest bridges have thousands of people on them with linked hands and holding candles. The TV picture of the destruction of these bridges and all the people on them can’t now easily go out into the world.

You might not think that 22 days of air raids, of bombs falling on your head, is conducive to humor, but you would be wrong. We humans often laugh at ourselves, at our fears, stupidities, irrationalities or at the stupidities and irrationalities of others. There has been so much stupidity and irrationality recently, so much absurdity, so much fear, that it is not so strange that Belgrade is once again a city of jokes. Everyone you meet tells you a joke. (Look Mom -- that’s our house on CNN!) Some are vulgar -- most of these have to do with Monica Lewinsky.

The situation here is black, and though the people are giving a great effort not to give in to fear, still it looms in the back of the minds of each and every one of us. Fear for our lives, the lives of our families and friends, fear for our property, and most of all fear for our sanity. -- Aleksandar Bogojevic

(The following is from a woman identified as an American Protestant missionary in Nis, Serbia.)

Please pray. People are very frightened. I was in two separate prayer meetings today, and people were crying out to God with all that they had for forgiveness, for their land, for peace to be restored and for God to miraculously intervene. ... We all tried to sleep together in the basement of our house, watching the news and tossing and turning. The fear is almost overwhelming. Last night was the scariest night of my life. We were all on one couch against a wall with blankets and pillows over our heads. There was a blackout in the city. With all the lights out, with our shoes on, with our passports in our pockets in case of hasty retreat or death. We kept the children between us.

Nine rockets hit Nis. One came within 200 meters of our house. It was horrible. You could hear the planes coming, then the rockets, and then you didn’t know how close it would come. The children would start crying, we were praying and then they would hit, one after the other after the other. The windows shook violently in the house, but we had them open so that the pressure would not blow them out. Then, after the bombs would come a deadly silence, and just when you thought you could get up, another would come. All of us were sick to our stomachs -- the fear and anxiousness just ties you up inside.

The damage is not just military sites; there are houses, coffee bars and downtown areas totally destroyed. I have come to believe that this is not simply about a humanitarian problem with the Kosovo Albanians -- this is about destroying a sovereign nation.

(The following from a man in Novi Sad, Serbia.)

Dear people of the unbombed world,

The only standing bridge across the Danube in Novi Sad is no longer standing. It was severely bombed tonight. At least six heavy bombs fell on it. No one counted because it was combined in one tragically massive explosion. Imagine an earthquake, a big one, which lasts a long, long time. Or, at least, it seems so. ... Rocks, concrete, parts of an iron fence and pieces of bombs were flying in a radius of 1.5 kilometers. Most of the pieces were small and very fast, but there was quite a lot of those which were soccer ball sized and bigger. As a result of tonight’s bombing, the whole Novi Sad and a wide area around it aren’t supplied with fresh drinking water. That means around 500 000 men, women, children, elders and ill people can’t wash their hands, take a shower, brush their teeth, wash their laundry.

Two days ago, a girl in Velika Dobrinja was killed by a bomb. Her two brothers and a sister were badly injured. A refugee camp on Mount Gucevo was also bombed. There were about a dozen killed and many more wounded. Five boys that were watching cattle were all wounded by a cluster bomb.

Regards from Novi Sad,

-- Vladimir Ivankovic.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher.

National Catholic Reporter, May 7, 1999 [corrected 05/14/1999]