FROM WESTERN AUSTRALIATopic: BALKAN AFFAIRS
ALSO SEE THREE TiM GW BULLETINS FILED
CONTEMPORANEOUSLY DURING THE
"TOUR DE SERBIA:"
"Tour de Serbia" - Part I (Sept. 13)
"Tour de Serbia - Part II (Sept. 15)
"Tour de Serbia - Part III (Sept. 16)
TiM's "TOUR DE SERBIA" - STAGE 1
Sofia-Nis - Photo Album Sept. 12, 1999 (15 images)
Sofia-Nis; Nis Mini Tour; Two-Channel TV Interview
SOFIA-NIS, Sept. 12 - Despite three wars and seven years of sanctions, it was quite evident that the farmers' fields in Serbia are in a better shape than in Bulgaria. ZV explained that by the fact that when the communal farming was privatized, the individual farmers lacked the tools (machines) and money to continue to work their land.
The once thriving BG-YU border crossing was practically deserted. The YU official who checked and stamped our passports, gave us a big broad smile when he saw our name. It seems he'd heard of the Djurdjevic name before. But he did take a couple of minutes to check out that our car was not a stolen one, even though it was evident that it was an "official" car (of the Nis Chamber of Commerce).
First Bombing Site
Soon after the border, we came upon the first bombing site. A NATO bomb had missed the nearby railroad bridge, and exploded in a farmer's field, digging a huge crater in it (see the Sofia-Nis, Stage 1 Photos).
A short distance later, at a point where the highway and the "Orient Express" railroad line intersect and cross the Nisava river, Zeljko Veselinovic (ZV) of CentNet, the official City of Nis chief of protocol for our visit, said that NATO was probably trying to hit the highway bridge, and collapse it on top of the railroad, closing both. But the bombs missed, exploding in the river between the railroad and the highway, less than 100 yards away from both. The bomb crater was still clearly visible through the green waters of the Nisava river.
On the other side of the bridge, a great big mound of burnt out tires could be seen. "The smoke from the tires tends to interfere with the missile navigation equipment," ZV explained. It was the first of many examples of the "cat and mouse" games which the YU Army successfully played with NATO. I told HGD that I also recall seeing tires lining the Beska bridge over the Danube, when I crossed it in April. Unfortunately, the trick was less successful in that case, as the Beska bridge was destroyed later on.
Nis Bomb Damage
Once in Nis, and before checking into out apartment at the Nis University, ZV took us on a "NATO sightseeing tour." First the Army headquarters building which was cut in half by a bomb. The rounded front facade seemed almost intact, while the back half of the building, along with the next door restaurant were wiped out. Nearby apartments were also badly damaged. ZV said pictures were not allowed as this was still considered a military installation. (see the photos which we took later on - in Stage 2 of the "Tour de Serbia," after having received Gen. Pavkovic's permission to do so).
Next was the bridge, half of which was blown away by a bomb which shattered windows, and sowed shrapnel all over this part of Nis downtown in a radius of several hundred yards. Another bomb, missed the bridge, and exploded in the river, damaging the nearby Greek consulate and a factory (we took pictures of all of this carnage, still visible four months later - see photos Nos. 9 and 10).
But the most gut-wrenching scenes were to follow, as we visited Sumatovacka Street, which leads to the Nis market. "Eleven people died here," ZV said when the Nis market was hit by cluster bombs on May 7 (see the Special TiM GW Bulletin filed that day). "It was the single most deadly bombing site." Yet, it barely got a mention in the world press, as the same day bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade grabbed the headlines.
At the "Two Lanterns" ("Dva Fenjera") café, where a young (28) waitress, Gordana Sekulic, was killed, we were shown the damage by the restaurant owner. Two death notices were still pasted to the windows (see the photos).
"She was the nicest person and the best employee I've ever had," he said, his voice quivering even four months after the incident. "Here," he said pointing to the scars in the pavement in front of the restaurant which two cluster bombs left, no more than 15 feet away from the spot where the waitress took her last breath. Small craters, maybe 12 inches in diameter and 2-3 inches deep, with a halo of smaller round holes around it, marked the spot of one of the most egregious NATO crimes against humanity during its 79-day against the Serb civilians.
Nis: An Opposition-run City
As it turned out, Nis the most bombed out city in Serbia in NATO's war "against Milosevic." Interestingly, the city is run by the Serbian democratic opposition and is one of the few places in Serbia where Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) party is practically non-existent when it comes to local governing, although the head of the Nis District is from SPS (Dr. Jovan Zlatic). So while ostensibly waging war on Milosevic, NATO saved its worst for Serbia's most democratic city. A hint of what NATO really stands for? (fascism).
ZV showed us to our Nis University apartment on the second floor. We had about one hour to unpack and rest before the TV show. As we were walking in, ZV pointed to the street ahead and said, "that's the scene from the bombing you have at our Web site." Indeed, the picture must have been taken from the very spot we were standing on.
Two-Channel TV Show
The live TV show at the TV Belle Amie was also aired by the City TV. The set for the show was beautifully designed, with a huge "Istina u Medijima" (Truth in Media) sign as the backdrop (see the photo No. 12).
The news talk hosts from both TV channels, Risto Bukvic and Stela Jovanovic, the local equivalent of a Ted Koppel and Connie Chung, joined forces in conducting an hour-long crossfire interview, with a large number of callers posing their own questions to me. It was the first time the two competing TV stations have done that. The show's producers and directors later told me that their switchboard was jammed up the whole time. "We've never had so many calls before," the TV program director later told us. Indeed, the TiM editor still has a collection of 21 viewer question transcripts which a grateful director gave him as a "souvenier."
Walk Through Nis with Stela
After the show, Stela Jovanovic (SJ), a popular news talk show hostess from City TV, one of the two interviewers, Mrs. Djurdjevic and the TiM editor walked through the center of Nis, enroute to a restaurant, "Srpska Kraljica," (Serbian Queen), where we had dinner with ZV and some other CentNet people. Along the way, SJ pointed out to us a big banner which was hung right across the full width of a street, advertising my speech at the Nis Peoples Theater tomorrow night (see the photo 13.).
There was also a huge Coca Cola sign painted the full height of a building's facade, and a bustling McDonald's restaurant. I made some snide remarks how these people (the Princes, the multinationals) were bombing them (indirectly). And now they are already welcome back to Nis. Stela explained that the Coke ad was painted on a private building whose owners rented the billboard space to Coke.
Later on, when the TiM editor was asked by the various Nis media personalities and the dignitaries what he like the least about the city he had just visited for the first time, he replied: "1. A huge Coca-Cola sign in downtown Nis; 2. functioning McDonald's Golden Arches restaurant in the center of city. "Don't you realize that these 'Princes of the 20th Century' and their multinational brethren paid for the bombing of your city?'," the TiM editor asked rhetorically.
Stela's Husband: A Personal Tragedy
Stela then told us about the first of many tragedies we were to hear about during our "Tour de Serbia." She said that she had lost her husband in NATO's bombing of the train on the Grdelica bridge, near Leskovac (see TiM GW Bulletin S99-38, Day 20, Update 1, Item 1, Apr. 12, and the Photos 7 - Special TiM GW Bulletins - Mar. 24 - June 10, 1999). He was on his way to join his YU Army unit. But since his body was never found, she now has to wait a year before the YU Army will declare him officially dead. Meanwhile, she cannot claim any of his pension. They have two daughters, 16 and 19.
The train and the bridge were first shaken by a bomb which hit one end of the bridge, but did not actually torch the train. Many people escaped in the minute and a half which had elapsed before the second missile struck the train on the bridge, killing 11 people and wounding scores of others. Stela says her husband was 6'-4", and quite fit, so he could have conceivably escaped, too. If he is still alive, he could be now a POW somewhere in Kosovo, the hopeful ones speculate. Stela's younger daughter still refuses to accept her father's death, for example. She crticized her Mom for wearing black during the live TiM show on Sept. 12 at the TV Belle Amie studio.
Surviving Cluster Bombs
Stela also told us about her personal experience when Nis was bombed with cluster bombs, and a narrow brush with death which she had escaped. She had just gotten out of her car and walked into a store, when the bombs fell all around that street, raining death and destruction on all who were still outside. Her car had 24 shrapnel holes in it. "Had I still been in it, I would have been dead," she said. When she finally made it home that day, her daughters were beside themselves. They thought that they had now lost both parents. Luckily, their Mom was still around to help them deal with the tragedy of losing their Dad. Or not...?
The Jovanovic family's was the first of many Serb personal tragedies which we were to encounter during our 4.5 day, 8-stage "Tour de Serbia."
Also, check out... Truth in Media Statement on the Kosovo War, "Wither Dayton, Sprout New War?", "On the Brink of Madness", "Tragic Deja Vu's," "Seven U.S. Senators Suggest Ouster of Milosevic", "Biting the Hand That Feeds You", "A Balkan Affairs Potpourri", "Put the U.N. Justice on Trial", "International Justice 'Progresses' from Kidnapping to Murder", "Milosevic: 'A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery'...", "Kosovo Lie Allowed to Stand", "New World Order's Inquisition in Bosnia", "Kosovo Heating Up", "Decani Monastery Under Siege?", "Murder on Wall Street", "Kosovo: 'Bosnia II', Serbia's Aztlan", "What If the Shoe Were on the Other Foot?", "Serb WW II General Exhonerated by British Archives," "Green Interstate - Not Worth American Lives", "An American Hero or Actor of the Year?" (A June '95 TiM story) and/or "Clinton arme secrètement les musulmans bosniaques", "Kocevje: Tito's Greatest Crime?", "Perfidious Albion Strikes Again, Aided by Uncle Sam", "Lift the Sanctions, Now!" (1993)
Or Djurdjevic's WASHINGTON TIMES columns: "Chinese Dragon Wagging Macedonian Tail," "An Ugly Double Standard in Kosovo Conflict?", "NATO's Bullyboys", "Kosovo: Why Are We Involved?", and "Ginning Up Another Crisis"