YUGOSLAVIA AMID THE MAELSTROM

 

by Gregory Elich.

Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG),  globalresearch.ca,  26  February 2002

 

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The sound was like no other. Hundreds of blackbirds were perched in trees throughout the park in central Belgrade where our bus stopped, and their loud and raucous cries startled me. I had never seen so many blackbirds in one place. Our host, Nikola Moracha, and his son were there to greet us. When asked about the blackbirds, Nikola replied, "We never had these before. They are from Kosovo. They migrated here because the bombing in Kosovo was too intense." The birds’ piercing cries were unsettling, and seemed a harbinger of all of the pain and suffering we would come to witness during our stay in Yugoslavia. We were a delegation of peace activists and concerned individuals, organized and led by Barry Lituchy, a specialist on European history. Our mission during the first two weeks of August 1999 was to bring medical aid to the people of Yugoslavia, and to gather evidence of NATO war crimes for former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark’s Independent Commission of Inquiry.

Years of hardship had taken their toll on Yugoslav society. Burdened by sanctions, a massive influx of refugees, and NATO’s destruction of factories and workplaces, the unemployment rate had soared. All along Revolution Boulevard, sidewalks were jammed with street vendors selling paltry goods. For many, it was an important means of survival. I saw two quite elderly women sitting behind a card table, on which they had placed their only goods, stones hand-painted with designs and affectionate phrases. Gasoline was strictly rationed, and stations were usually closed. We frequently saw people standing by roadsides with plastic bottles of gasoline for sale. Gasoline smuggled across the border from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Hungary was another means of survival for the destitute. Buses and streetcars were densely crowded. Windows in many streetcars were sealed - a sign of air conditioning in better times. Now the closed windows served to trap the oppressive summer heat as people, soaked with sweat, crowded and pressed against each other. "The burden of imposed sanctions is felt in nearly every situation on a daily basis," Danka Moracha, Nikola’s wife, informed us. "Sanctions have changed our lives tremendously, if not totally. Now we are all used to shortages of everyday necessities such as basic food, cleaning products and personal items. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford them, you must wait in long lines." Sanctions, she added, had resulted in a "decline of salaries, pensions and a general impoverishment of ordinary people." According to the Yugoslav Red Cross, approximately 100,000 people, primarily pensioners and welfare recipients, relied on soup kitchens, but the need outstripped the supply of available meals. Eight years of sanctions had taken their toll, and the war compounded the effect, nearly doubling the poverty rate in less than three months.

On our first morning in Belgrade, we met with Bratislava Morina, Federal Minister for Refugees, Displaced Persons and Humanitarian Aid. It was Morina’s ministry that was responsible for coping with Europe’s largest refugee population. Already burdened with 700,000 refugees from earlier wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, more than 200,000 people had fled here from Kosovo by the time of our visit, a number that would soon grow to over 350,000. Morina, whose husband is Albanian, listed several prominent political positions held by Albanians in Yugoslavia, "until they were given orders to leave office" by secessionists "and become part of the parallel world." – a reference to the secessionists’ boycott of institutions. Calm and dignified, Morina spoke eloquently of the destruction wrought by NATO, but concluded that these were "not the worst crimes committed" by President Clinton. "When we hear claims that they want to create a multiethnic society in Kosovo, this is ironic," she said, "because we have witnessed one of the most radical ethnic cleansing campaigns" since the arrival of NATO troops. Less than a year and a half after our visit, following the overthrow of the socialist government, Morina, a woman in her fifties, would be set upon by a gang of right-wing thugs and severely beaten.

We next met with officials of the Yugoslav Red Cross. We turned over to them several bags of donated medicines. Dr. Miodrag Starcevich talked of the refugee crisis, pointing out that "our needs are very urgent," and that they lacked food, shelter, clothes and medicines for refugees. Officials there felt that the level of need for humanitarian aid greatly exceeded what international organizations were providing. Another serious problem for the organization was that it could not operate freely in Kosovo. "We cannot go there," Dr. Starcevich said. "Even when we send humanitarian relief, we must provide in advance for some kind of escort by KFOR [NATO’s Kosovo Force], because it is impossible to go there. It is too dangerous." Medical officer Ljubisha Dragisich told us that local production met most of the nation’s needs for drugs and medical supplies, but that sanctions caused shortages for those medicines that had to be imported. "It’s especially a problem with some services," she said. "For example, the transfusion service, because we import the bags and blood tests, and some drugs…oncology drugs, and some programs for example, the dialysis program, and a part of the program for treatment of diabetics." Suture material and anesthetic drugs were also in short supply.

Poisoning a Nation

We were particularly interested in learning more about the environmental impact of NATO’s bombing. The systematic destruction of chemical plants, fertilizer plants, and oil refineries wrought enormous damage to the environment. In the early morning hours of April 18, 1999, NATO missiles rained down on the industrial town of Panchevo, just northeast of Belgrade. As missiles struck a petrochemical plant, over 900 tons of highly carcinogenic vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) rose into the atmosphere. By sunrise, clouds of VCM poured through the town, at levels exceeding 10,600 times the permissible limit for human safety. Residents choked and struggled to breathe. Burning VCM released as a byproduct phosgene gas, a substance that was used as a poison gas during the First World War. Chlorine gas - also used as a poison gas during World War I - was discharged by fires, as were other dangerous chemicals, including naphtha, ethylene dichloride and hydrochloric acid. A poison rain spattered the region, and hundreds of tons of oil and chemicals soaked into the soil and poured into the Danube River. Pools of mercury formed on the grounds of the plant. After a missile narrowly missed striking a tank of liquid ammonia, panicked workers dumped the liquid ammonia into the Danube in order to avert a terrible tragedy. Although the entire population of Panchevo was evacuated immediately, by the time of our visit most residents had returned to their homes. Doctors in Panchevo had advised women to avoid pregnancy for next two years, and many residents had come down with red rashes and blisters. Although our stay in Panchevo lasted only a few hours, five of us, myself included, found rashes appearing on our legs before the end of the day. My lower legs were covered with rashes, and it was two weeks before they would finally disappear. I wondered at the effect for those who lived there. According to one worker we talked with, eighty percent of the petrochemical plant was destroyed. Another worker told us that "vast quantities of ammonia and VCM spilled into the river," and that he could "see an immediate effect because one meter above the river the bank appears burned. All the plants look as if they had been burned by fire." Several people expressed fears for their health and that of their families.

Serious environmental hazards also resulted from the destruction of power plants in Bor and Kragujevac. Transformers there relied on transformer oil containing polychlorinated biphenyles (PCB) pyralene as a coolant. According to the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe, "one liter of the PCB pyralene pollutes one billion liters of water." We visited an oil refinery in Novi Sad. One resident of Novi Sad, whose home was located a mere three blocks from the refinery, told me that the refinery was bombed on virtually a daily basis and that his neighborhood was constantly enveloped in smoke. Over 73,000 metric tons of oil and oil products were released into the environment in Novi Sad, and 156 storage tanks demolished. When we were outside the refinery, my eyes and throat burned from the pollution and we saw a struggling bird soaked in oil, near death.

Perhaps the deadliest weapon in NATO’s arsenal was depleted uranium (DU) reinforced missiles and bombs. Depleted uranium’s high density enables projectiles to easily penetrate armor and concrete targets. When DU weapons impact on their target, thousands of particles of uranium dust are released in a mist, and may be borne for miles by the wind. When people ingest these particles, serious bodily damage can result. Earlier use of DU weapons in the 1991 Gulf War resulted in a dramatic rise in birth defects and leukemia throughout Basra province in southern Iraq. The half-life of depleted uranium, 4.5 billion years, essentially ensures the permanent contamination of the region.

Barry Lituchy and I talked with Dr. Radoje Lausevich, an environmental specialist and assistant professor at the University of Belgrade. Dr. Lausevich’s appearance and manner of speech reminded me of my best friend Jorge, so he made an immediately favorable impression. While driving us in his car, he commented on the ecological impact of the war, and it wasn’t until we arrived at our destination that I realized that his talk was so interesting that I had forgotten to record him or take notes. We arrived at the office of the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe, where we briefly concluded our discussion of the environmental damage. Barry asked about depleted uranium (DU) weapons. My impression was that use of depleted uranium weapons was limited to Kosovo, but Dr. Lausevich told us that Russian sources had determined that 30 metric tons of DU was used outside of Kosovo. The entire territory of Yugoslavia had been exposed to these weapons. One particle of DU in the lungs, he told us, was equivalent to an hourly chest x-ray for life.

The delegation also met with Dushan Vasiljevich, president of Green Table, a Belgrade-based environmental non-governmental organization. A man with an elegant manner of speech, he also acted as our guide and translator when we visited Panchevo. Vasiljevich told us that 135,000 tons of toxic chemicals spilled into the environment as a result of NATO bombing. Speaking of Panchevo, he pointed out that VCM "is one of the most dangerous toxic chemicals that ever existed. It’s gastro-organic in the first place, and disrupts the cells," the consequences of which are "liver disease, kidney disease and of course cancer itself." Vasiljevich also confirmed Dr. Lausevich’s report of widespread use of DU weapons. Vasiljevich explained that as a DU mist spreads over an area, it "enters the food chain, as well as to water, soil, even in the air. Once you get these depleted uranium particles in your body, they stay there. You can’t get rid of them. And they move in your body…mostly they go to the kidneys, and also to the liver." Vasiljevich’s comments on Kosovo were sobering. "Kosovo itself is a nuclear desert now. I wouldn’t go there myself…because the level of radiation in Kosovo is over any tolerable level." Depleted uranium emits primarily alpha radiation, which is 20 times more deadly internally than gamma radiation, he said. The United Nations Balkan Task Force, as well as other Western investigators "did not find any increased radiation. How could they say so? Because they did not have the proper equipment for that….They had just a Geiger counter." A Geiger counter is worthless for measuring DU because it measures primarily gamma radiation, not alpha.

Exhaust from NATO overflights, Vasiljevich claimed, severely damaged the ozone layer above Yugoslavia. Immediately following NATO’s bombing campaign, Yugoslavia was ravaged by a series of floods and severe rainstorms. By the time of our visit, the temperature was searing, unbearable at times. People speculated that the heat, floods and rains were a result of the thinning of the ozone. The damaged ozone layer would soon drift over Western Europe, Vasiljevich said. It is difficult to determine a correlation, but on December 2, 1999, the European Space Agency reported that the lowest ever levels of ozone, "nearly as low as those found in the Antarctic," were measured over northwest Europe during November. Everyone was concerned about the food supply. Danka Moracha worried that "all that we have on the green markets or in the shops nowadays has been contaminated, either by the destroyed chemical industry or by the new weapons dropped on our heads. I can’t even think about the possible consequences of consuming such food."

Novi Sad

In the northern city of Novi Sad, we viewed three bridges spanning the Danube River, all severed by NATO missiles. The Varadin Bridge carried a main water pipe, and when the bridge was destroyed on April 1, the Petrovaradin section of the city lost its water supply. Similarly, destruction of the Zhezhelj Bridge on April 26 eliminated the water supply in the suburbs. Water had to be trucked in until service could be restored. At the Executive Council Building in Novi Sad, we met Dr. Zhivorad Smiljanich, president of the Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, and an interesting and knowledgeable man. Smiljanich pointed out, as did many others during our visit, that Yugoslavia has 26 nationalities and is a multiethnic society. "Even the smallest nationalities have education in their own mother tongue," he said. "Now you can see for yourselves what NATO did." NATO leaders "constantly talk about democracy, but we could see that democracy in action here: democracy that bombed and destroyed bridges, schools and hospitals….all these aims were actually false, because the real truth and their real aim was to conquer everything and put everything under one system." Smiljanich was asked to name their most urgent need. "The thing that we would like most of all is for the international community to leave us alone;" he exclaimed, "to lift blockades and sanctions, and stop ‘helping’ us in the way that they are doing."

Following the meeting, one official approached Barry. His eyes were moist. "It was such a difficult time for those of us with children," he said. "We didn’t know what to do: take both children in one cellar, or put them in separate cellars." A terrible dilemma: whether to keep the family together and risk losing everyone in a single moment; or split the family apart, thus increasing the chances of losing someone.

We were scheduled to tour and view bomb damage at the Executive Council building later in the day. When our bus arrived and pulled to a stop in front of the building, our delegation began to disembark. A woman walked up to our bus, and asked us through an open window, "Are you a delegation?" Receiving an affirmative answer, she spoke in an angry and outraged tone, "We’re a delegation from Germany. We’ve been here one week already. We’ve seen such terrible things, you can’t imagine. People here have a system like nowhere in the world. It’s a true multiethnic society. Back in Germany, all we hear are lies. There is no way to get the truth out." We soon came to share her reaction and her outrage. The portrayal of Yugoslavia in Western media was bizarre for anyone who troubled himself to actually visit the place. A multiethnic society where peoples of many nationalities worked and lived together was painted as racist. A society in which women walked alone calmly and unafraid in a park at midnight, as we regularly witnessed, was portrayed as crime-ridden. Knowledgeable and worldly people were represented as ignorant and irrational. How often had I read in the Western press of President Slobodan Miloshevich’s 1989 speech at Kosovo Polje, in which it was claimed that he whipped the crowd into a nationalist frenzy with a language of hate? Such lies could be told because few people could check the text of the speech. I couldn’t believe the accusation because it ran counter to those speeches I was familiar with. When I finally found a copy of the speech, my suspicions were confirmed. There was not one phrase of hatred. What I found instead were phrases such as, "Serbia has never had only Serbs living in it. Today, more than in the past, members of other peoples and nationalities also live in it. This is not a disadvantage for Serbia. I am truly convinced that it is its advantage." Or these examples: "Socialism in particular, being a progressive and just democratic society, should not allow people to be divided in the national and religious respect," and "Yugoslavia is a multiethnic community and it can survive only under the conditions of full equality for all nations that live in it." These are the phrases Western media would have one believe were filled with hate and racism. This was the infamous racist speech. Nor was this speech unique, as Miloshevich consistently expressed such sentiments. Consider his words, delivered in a speech in 1992: "We know that there are many Albanians in Kosovo who do not approve of the separatist policy of their nationalist leaders. They are under pressure, intimidated and blackmailed, but we shall not respond with the like. We must respond by offering our hand, living with them in equality, and not permitting that a single Albanian child, woman, or man be discriminated against in Kosovo in any way. We must, for the sake of all Serbian citizens, insist on the policy of brotherhood, unity, and ethnic equality in Kosovo. We shall persevere on this policy." When I returned to the United States, it was weeks before I could bear to listen to or read the news and its spewing of lies and obsession with trivial issues.

Whatever else would happen during our stay in Yugoslavia, it was clear that we would be well fed. Each morning and evening Nikola and Danka prepared a spectacular banquet for us. We were continually delighted by a dazzling array of delicious dishes. Their extraordinary hospitality and kindness made me feel like part of their family, and Nikola’s impish sense of humor brought daily merriment. The importance of family and friends was paramount in this society. Friends, family, and neighbors often visited. On the street, we often saw family members holding hands. Displays of affection were open. Due to sanctions, their lives were materially impoverished compared to earlier times, but still they led full lives. As one man in Novi Sad told me, "Here we have a different philosophy than in the West. We have a saying, ‘The man is rich who has many friends’."

NATO did not ignore Vidovdan Skonaselje, a suburb of Novi Sad. People were living in the ruins of their homes, simply because they had nowhere else to go. The home of Rajko and Gordana Matich was one of several that were severely damaged. In 1992, Rajko and Gordana fled from Zagreb and built their new home here. Now NATO had bombed their new house. Heavy plastic covered the windows. With the exception of the frame and base, nothing remained of the roof. The explosion had dented and twisted their car. They allowed us inside to view their home. Holes in the walls, a result of the bomb blast, allowed chickens to enter and wander about. On the second floor, one of the interior walls, broken and cracked, was bowed to an alarming degree, like the letter ‘C’. Light streamed in through a ruptured wall, and mounds of rubble filled the rooms. It didn’t seem safe, but they had nowhere else to go, nor money to repair the damage. Previous Western visitors had promised them help, which never came. To the left of the Matich’s house stood the empty shell of their neighbor’s home. Only the brick walls still stood. The bombing blew everything else away. Farther to the left, the roof of a demolished home angled down to the ground. Behind it stood more homes with blasted roofs, damaged walls and seared interiors. The house to the right was missing the second floor. Only remnants of the front and back wall remained. Hammering sounds told us that the owners had begun the arduous task of rebuilding. Across the street, the roof of one home was a mass of twisted wreckage. Between these buildings, a roadside sign listed at a drunken angle, punctured neatly by shrapnel from a NATO bomb. It was a "welcome to shop" sign.

NATO also left its calling card at another suburb of Novi Sad, Detelinara. On May 6, a powerful bomb landed at the juncture of two apartment buildings and the Svetozar Markovich elementary school. By the time of our visit, the huge crater had been filled in, and all 20 of the demolished automobiles removed. The buildings were severely damaged, and many apartment flats were devastated. Seven people were wounded in the attack, and the site followed a pattern that we would witness repeatedly during our two weeks in Yugoslavia. NATO targeted residential areas with no military value on a regular basis.

Belgrade under NATO’s Onslaught

In New Belgrade, the more modern section of the capital, we stopped at Hotel Yugoslavia. On May 7, just before midnight, two NATO missiles struck the hotel near its main entrance, killing one person and wounding four. It was impossible to view the extensive destruction without contemplating the mentality that could order missiles to be fired at a hotel. As we stood before the Chinese embassy, only a few blocks away, NATO’s excuses seemed absurd. Architecturally distinctive, the embassy’s unique beauty could not possibly be mistaken for the nearby Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement, nor any other building in the vicinity. Similarly difficult to swallow was the claim that the embassy was bombed because the CIA had relied on an old map. The embassy building was built during 1992-93, and an old map would have shown an empty field. One would have to believe that NATO intended to bomb an empty field. Certainly, the CIA would have closely monitored the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, particularly as NATO prepared to wage war on Yugoslavia. Three satellite-guided missiles struck the embassy, just twenty minutes after the bombing of Hotel Yugoslavia. Three people were killed, and 20 wounded in the attack. The missile that did the most damage penetrated through the roof, burrowing down to the basement. Fire and smoke poured through the building. The stairways were demolished, and people trapped on the top three floors tied bedsheets together, tossing them out of windows as a means of escape. We saw one rope of bedsheets still hanging from a fourth story window. Delegation member Jeff Goldberg, an architect, observed that some of the columns were severed, "rendering the building unusable, unless some major renovations were done. That would require further demolition of a lot of the existing building structure. So we’re talking about a job that would cost several million dollars to repair this building alone."

Two days before my departure for Yugoslavia, I obtained a copy of an article from the July 2 issue of Kai Fang, published in Hong Kong. The author, Su Lan, wrote that embassy personnel electronically monitored NATO’s military operations, and that NATO feared that the downing of its F-117 Stealth fighter-bomber may have been a result of information passed along to Yugoslav officials. The October 17, 1999 issue of The Observer and a follow-up story in the same publication a few weeks later both confirmed that the embassy was deliberately targeted. A NATO flight controller based in Naples told The Observer, "The Chinese embassy had an electronic profile, which NATO located and pinpointed." "The aim," said another NATO officer, "was to send a clear message to Miloshevich that he should not use outside help in the shape of the Chinese." Nikola Moracha remarked on the arrogance of NATO’s attack. "They showed the Chinese people, ‘Look at what we can do. Your property means nothing to us. Nothing to us,’ and now they are trying to show the whole world that nobody can say no."

Not far away stood the ruins of another beautiful building, the 23-story Ushche Business Center, the target of four missiles on April 21. Much of the building’s exterior was blackened by fire, and many windows were a mass of twisted metal. I remembered seeing dramatic photographs of this building engulfed in flames. According to a report in the Washington Post, NATO planners anticipated high "collateral damage," expecting that up to 100 government officials and 250 civilians in the office building and a nearby hospital within the "expected blast radius" would be killed in the attack. Given the size of the building and its near proximity to a hospital, the death toll had the potential of soaring far higher. Unfazed at the prospect of murdering up to 350 people, President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave their approval for the building to be bombed. The cruise missiles that struck the building contained special incendiary agents, ensuring that the fire would burn long for political effect. Belgrade is a much smaller city than New York City, but the Ushche Business Center could be viewed as the Yugoslav equivalent of the World Trade Center. It was the tallest, largest and most important office building in Yugoslavia, housing offices of a variety of important businesses and organizations. The rationale for the building’s destruction was that some of the offices belonged to the Socialist Party of Serbia and the closely allied Yugoslav United Left. Fortunately, officials in Belgrade anticipated that the building might be bombed, and evacuation ensured that no one perished in the attack. Jeff Goldberg, viewing the damage, estimated the construction cost of the Ushche Business Center at over $100 million. "As a result of the structural damage," he concluded, "it would probably cost more to try and repair this building than to just tear the whole thing down and start again. In the United States, a building of this size would in itself cost probably one to three million dollars just to tear it down and cart off all the material." When I first viewed the appalling footage of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, I recalled similar images of flames and billowing smoke issuing from the Ushche Business Center. The justifiable outrage over the World Trade Center tragedy contrasted with the smug satisfaction of Western leaders over the destruction of the Ushche Business Center.

NATO’s bland assertions seemed obscene. Bombing the Chinese embassy was an "accident," and therefore excusable. This carried with it the unspoken assumption that bombing another building and killing Yugoslav civilians would be acceptable. The destruction of Hotel Yugoslavia and the Ushche Business Center was also acceptable, because these somehow fell into the all-inclusive category of "military targets." The vast majority of people in the West were completely indifferent to the death and destruction carried out in their names. All of NATO’s claims were accepted without examination or questioning. The United States, it is assumed, has an inherent right to invade or bomb another country and to trample international law underfoot. In this context, I found it poignant when we saw a billboard for the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade, which read: "They believe in bombs. We believe in God."

That night, in the Moracha’s home, delegation member Ken Freeland interviewed Nenad Gudjich, a Serbian refugee from Kosovo. Gudjich said he felt that "Albanians suppressed me, especially when I started to date my present wife, who is Albanian." His wife also felt strong pressure from Albanian extremists, prompting them to leave Kosovo. "Something very interesting is happening now," Gudjich said. "I lived in Prishtina for 33 years. Now, on the streets of Belgrade, I saw a few of my Albanian friends who escaped, as I escaped, from Prishtina. They are living now in Belgrade without any problems. These are ethnic Albanians of my generation who escaped that chaos."

Every Federal building in downtown Belgrade bore the scars of bombing. Almost every day we passed by these buildings and each day the sight was as painful as the day before. Late one night during the war, kept awake by an air raid, Nikola was on his balcony talking to his neighbor across the street on her balcony. The sound of flying missiles interrupted their conversation. Nikola shouted at his neighbor, "Get down. This one will hit us." His shoulders rose as a chill travelled down the back of his neck. Moments later, two explosions roared. Only a few short blocks away, one missile smashed a house on Maxim Gorky Street, also damaging an adjoining apartment building and a restaurant. The other missile struck a street nearby. Four people were injured; one of whom, 23-year old Sofija Jovanovich, died of her wounds two days later. On my last day in Belgrade, I walked down to view the site. Nothing remained but a mound of concrete, bricks, broken boards, and upturned earth. As a sort of memorial, someone had scrawled graffiti on the remnants of an adjacent building: "Bombed April 30." With fatalistic humor, graffiti on another house read, "Sorry. You missed us." Danka described life during the bombing. "We were bombed constantly for 78 days and nights, without any break or pause. We were without water or electricity for days. We had to throw away everything from the refrigerator, including all medicaments essential for our family, because of the high temperatures in May. The bombing was awful, cruel and savage. We were all afraid, staying in the dark lobby for hours, listening to the scary sounds of the low-flying warplanes, detonations, children crying, car alarms, and people screaming who simply couldn’t stand it anymore." Later in the war, she added, "NATO changed its tactics, and by the end they were bombing us every two hours. That was part of their psychological war, I suppose." The effects of the bombardment were widespread. "There was no bread. The bakeries couldn’t produce bread without electricity. The smell of spoiled food spread from nearby supermarkets. There was no milk for children." Her children were upset, asking, "Why are those people bombing us? Why do they hate us so much when we didn’t do anything wrong to them?" Danka revealed that every time she kissed her children goodnight "during the bombing campaign, deep inside me I was praying for God to see them healthy and alive the next morning. During those long bombing nights, they were awakened so many times by strong nearby explosions, annoyed and panicked."

The Belgrade 5 transformer station of the Serbian Electric Company is located at Bezhanijska Kosa in New Belgrade. Like most electrical power and transformer stations, it had been bombed. Several Tomahawk missiles struck here, as well as a new weapon, the CBU-94, a cluster bomb which releases a web of carbon-graphite threads, resulting in electrical short-circuits and burnt components. At one point, seventy percent of Yugoslavia’s power supply was knocked out, which also adversely affected water supplies that depended on electrical pumps. About 50,000 hospital patients, including those on dialysis and babies in incubators, suffered during the power outages. When electrical workers proved adept at rapidly restoring power, NATO proceeded to target the plants with cruise missiles and conventional bombs. By the end of the war, one third of the electricity transmission systems were damaged or destroyed. During our visit to Belgrade 5, workers were busily repairing the damage. We talked with one of the workers, who said that most of the Belgrade suburb of Zemun was without electricity. He worried about the onset of winter, when people would have to rely on alternative sources of heat, such as coal and small heaters. Pointing out that the coolant for the plant’s transformers contained PCBs, he told us that "when the fuel burns, it is toxic, so [NATO] poisoned nature around here also. It went into the ground, so it will reach our water supplies." One of our delegation members, Jeff Goldberg, asked him if this was the most expensive damage inflicted on Yugoslavia, and the worker immediately responded, "The most expensive damage is that they killed a lot of people." When asked about the length of time required for repair, the worker answered. "We need equipment. We need spare parts…without foreign aid we are dead. We have a factory that makes spare parts, converters, but…they can make only one switch per month. It’s a low capacity factory."

The previous day, due to bomb damage, virtually all of Serbia’s steam power plants shut down, and much of the country was left without power. On the day of our visit, a breakdown at the power line at the Djerdap-Bor hydroelectric plant caused a chain-reaction of breakdowns in other power lines, resulting in more blackouts. It was expected that hundreds of thousands of people would freeze during winter, with sanctions blocking the import of much-needed parts, but prospects improved due to a remarkable program of reconstruction and improvisation. Electricity was rationed, with frequent power cuts. What seemed an inevitable humanitarian disaster was averted through the ingenuity, improvisation and heroic efforts of workers in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The electrical worker we talked with summed up the war: "We were bombed because we refuse to be slaves. We are a proud people and we don’t want to be enslaved. Rich people want slaves. They want obedient people."

Our meeting with the Belgrade-based Committee for Compiling Data on Crimes against Humanity and International Law was of particular interest for me. I had read several articles about the work of the committee as well as interviews with its president, Dr. Zoran Stankovich, so I was familiar with the meticulous and significant work they had done in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. All nine members of the committee work on a volunteer basis, constrained by severely limited resources, outmoded personal computers and only one copy machine. The committee was tasked to investigate NATO war crimes, and that was the main focus of our discussion. A point of frustration for the committee was that they had submitted eight files of documentation with The Hague War Crimes Tribunal, which treated their reports with complete disinterest.

Albanian Refugees and Civil War: Behind the Media Screen

NATO officials accused the Yugoslav government of expelling its Albanian population and committing genocide. The flood of refugees pouring into Albania and Macedonia was trumpeted as justification for bombing Yugoslavia. Few dwelled on the logical fallacy of NATO’s claim that a refugee crisis which occurred subsequent to bombing was itself the motivation for that bombing. Western leaders presented a simple picture, one easily grasped. Reality is seldom as simple as a Hollywood action movie, though, and Western leaders intentionally distorted events for an uncritical public.

Every nationality could be found among the membership of the Socialist Party of Serbia, including Albanian. How could Albanians be members of the Socialist Party if it were a racist organization? The party long prided itself on a commitment to a multiethnic society, and this commitment was evident in its program and in virtually every document and speech. Toward the end of 1998, during the period of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, the Yugoslav government set up 14 centers throughout Kosovo, where people could come and take free lumber and building supplies for reconstruction of homes damaged in the civil war. These supplies were made freely available to every person of every nationality. There were no restrictions. It was impossible for me to believe that the Socialist Party of Serbia metamorphosed overnight into a racist organization, bent on national exclusivity. It did not fit, so I dug into the matter, trying to ascertain the truth among a torrent of lies. A subtler picture emerged, still with suffering on a mass scale, but this time with NATO as the central catalyst. According to an intelligence report from the German Foreign Office, dated January 12, 1999, "Even in Kosovo an explicit political persecution linked to Albanian ethnicity is not verifiable…actions of the security forces [are] not directed against the Kosovo Albanians as an ethnically defined group, but against the military opponent and its actual or alleged supporters." A civil war was raging in the province of Kosovo between the Albanian secessionist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and Yugoslav security forces. This internal document presented a very different message than Western leaders’ public statements.

Concomitant with NATO’s bombing campaign, hundreds of thousands of people of all nationalities fled their homes. When the first bombs fell, extremists became enraged and blamed Albanians for the bombing. Many of these extremists formed paramilitary groups and criminal gangs, and vented their rage on the local Albanian population. NATO’s bombs created an environment of anarchy and chaos that allowed thugs, paramilitary gangs, and renegade police to operate freely. One Serbian official was reported as saying, "It was a catastrophe. Podujevo was emptied in about three hours. There were a lot of vile and angry people, maddened, who were out of control." In Prishtina, the capital city of Kosovo, the first wave of refugees departed when threatened by thugs during the week and a half that followed the beginning of NATO’s attack on March 24. The second wave left when the center of the city was bombed on April 6 and 7, and the third wave left later, out of a panic that something might happen. Zoran Andjelkovich, president of the then governing Provisional Executive Council for Kosovo, pointed out that the first ten days or so of chaos included fierce clashes among angry civilians. Criminal gangs ran wild, ordering people to leave so that their homes could be robbed. Both Albanian and Serbian criminal gangs roamed the region. Adrian Gillan, in an article in the London Review of Books, talked with Ben Ward, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. Ward told him, "There doesn’t appear to be anything to support allegations of mass killings. It is generally paramilitaries who are responsible. It doesn’t seem organized. There appear to be individual acts of sadism rather than anything else. There seems not to be any policy or instruction, but that isn’t to say that people have not been given the latitude to kill. However, I don’t think at this stage we have anything that adds up to the systematic killing of civilians." Restoring order was an extremely difficult task for the Yugoslav Army and security forces because they were under constant NATO bombardment. Yet by the third week of the war they had succeeded in restoring order in much of the region, and in the latter half of April, Yugoslav police began escorting refugees back to their homes. By the time Yugoslav troops and security forces withdrew from Kosovo in early June, they had arrested over 500 thugs and paramilitaries for crimes committed against Albanian civilians.

In addition, the Yugoslav Army convicted 169 of its soldiers for crimes committed during the war, primarily the looting of civilian property but also murder. The presiding judge at the Military Court in Nish, Colonel Vukadin Milojevich, pointed out that if one bears in mind that over 150,000 soldiers served in Kosovo, then "it is clear that the majority of them acted in accordance with the law." According to Milojevich, "For every criminal act of which we have learned, regardless of whether it was committed against Albanians or members of other nations, we have conducted an investigation and proceeded in accordance with the uncovered evidence. There is no criminal act to which the court has turned a blind eye."

During the war, the Yugoslav Army attempted to protect the safety of civilians of all nationalities. Several orders were issued along these lines. For instance, shortly after the beginning of the war, on March 27, the Yugoslav Third Army Command issued an order to its officers: "1. Prevent all forms of theft, looting, pillaging and other destruction of private and state property inside and outside the combat operation areas, especially focusing on profiteering. 2. Find the perpetrators of said actions in the shortest possible time frame, and turn them over to investigative authorities, Corps courts-martial and military district commanders. 3. Military courts have a duty to sentence the perpetrators to the highest possible penalties under the law, observing the rules of express procedure." Three days later, another order was issued to all Army units: "Relations towards civilians shall be governed by strict adherence to international laws of war and the Geneva Convention. If individuals violate international laws of war, their superior officers must initiate the procedure to penalize them according to the law." Orders of this nature continued to be issued and followed throughout the war.

At the beginning of the war, Yugoslav troops evacuated villages along the border with Albania where KLA bunkers and arms depots where found. An invasion by NATO troops was anticipated, and as one Yugoslav soldier explained, "You can’t be waiting for the American army and at the same time have armed Albanians behind your back." In an interview for UPI conducted during the war, Yugoslav President Slobodan Miloshevich said, "Our regular forces are highly disciplined. The paramilitary irregular forces are a different story. Bad things happened, as they did with both sides during the Vietnam War, or any other war for that matter. We have arrested those irregular self-appointed leaders. Some have already been tried and sentenced to 20 years in prison."

People fled for other reasons as well. There was a clear pattern of people fleeing areas subjected to intensive bombardment. Some of the refugees Ben Ward talked with said they had fled from NATO bombs. Many Albanian refugees also fled to escape being caught in battles between Yugoslav and KLA forces. Thousands more fled to avoid forcible conscription into KLA ranks. Every Albanian man KLA soldiers encountered was forced to enlist. Those who refused were either savagely beaten or killed. Sani Rifati, an activist on behalf of the Roma (Gypsy) people, interviewed Romany refugees in Italy who had fled from Kosovo to escape KLA terror. Several of the refugees told him that two days into NATO’s war a flyer appeared all over Kosovo, bearing the signature of KLA leader Hashim Thachi and issued as an order by the KLA: "All Albanian civilians that are from Kosovo MUST leave Kosovo IMMEDIATELY." The flyers were in the colors of the Albanian flag: black print on red paper. Rifati noted that refugees from different cities, interviewed independently, told him that KLA commanders ordered Kosovo Albanians to leave Kosovo. In those areas of Kosovo under the sway of the KLA, civilians would feel compelled to follow such an order, as the secessionist army had amply demonstrated its willingness to kill those who did not follow its dictates. By encouraging refugee flight, the KLA hoped to score a propaganda victory and escalate NATO’s air campaign.

Refugee flight, though, was never as thorough as painted by NATO propaganda, and hundreds of thousands of Albanians remained in Kosovo. Paramilitary rage swept through the western region of Kosovo, while much of the remainder of the province was unscathed. Even during the period of bombing, many thousands of Albanian refugees returned to their homes.

The web of lies spun by the NATO propaganda machine started to unravel once NATO’s KFOR troops entered the province. Claiming that there would be half a million internally displaced people inside the province, KFOR instead found only small isolated pockets of refugees. "We planned for what we thought was a potential disaster…and we just haven’t found it," admitted Lt. General Mike McDuffie. Lurid tales of mass genocide fell apart, as forensic specialists investigated suspected mass graves. Up to 700 bodies were said to be hidden in the Trepcha lead and zinc mines. When searched, not one body was found there. About 350 were buried in a mass grave in Ljubenic, the public was told. A thorough examination of the site found only seven. The leader of the Spanish forensic team, Emilio Perez Pujo, was told that his team would go to the "worst zone of Kosovo," and to "prepare ourselves to perform more than 2,000 autopsies." But, he said, "the result is very different. We only found 187 cadavers." "There were no mass graves" in his team’s area, he said. "For the most part the Serbs are not as bad as they have been painted." Faced with increasingly embarrassing questions about the lack of evidence for NATO’s justification for military aggression, The Hague war crimes tribunal scrambled to release a statement asserting that they had indeed found 2,108 bodies. Far short of genocide, but certainly more than individual reports of excavations would indicate. The final excavations yielded only 680 additional corpses. Significantly, the tribunal neglected to categorize these deaths. We are not told how many bodies of each nationality were found, how many died from executions, how many were KLA or Yugoslav soldiers killed in combat, how many died from NATO bombs, and how many died from natural causes.

During the first two weeks of the war, a refrigerator truck containing the bodies of about thirty civilians surfaced in the Danube. A reporter investigating the matter nearly two years later agreed to meet with three police officers who attempted to pressure him into dropping his investigation. One of the men claimed that he would kill the people who were found in the refrigerator truck again. Three mass graves located in Serbia were discovered shortly thereafter, one located at a police training center near Belgrade. These graves yielded a total of 405 bodies that had been transported out of Kosovo in a bid to cover up crimes by renegade police or to protect paramilitary perpetrators. The post-Miloshevich Yugoslav government at the time was preparing to permit the kidnapping of Miloshevich to The Hague in order to appease Western demands. Despite a frantic effort to produce evidence linking Miloshevich to these graves, the government could only produce one witness, Police Captain Dragan Karleusha, who claimed that in a meeting which took place early in the war, Miloshevich ordered a cover up. Karleusha admitted, however, that he was not present at the meeting, nor had he heard about it from others. He merely surmised that such a meeting took place. In other words, there was no evidence.

Shortly after the war began, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer announced the existence of a secret Yugoslav plan to expel the Albanian population from Kosovo. Termed Operation Horseshoe, the plan was the subject of numerous news reports. One year later, retired German brigadier general Heinz Loquai claimed that the plan was a fabrication. "I have come to the conclusion that no such operation ever existed," he said. The German news weekly Die Woche reported that the maps presented as evidence of Operation Horseshoe were drawn up at German Defense headquarters. The plan wasn’t even a good fabrication. Loquai pointed out that the name given the plan, Potkova, is the Croatian variant of the word for horseshoe. The Serbian variant is Potkovica.

NATO claimed that its intervention was necessary to quell the civil war in Kosovo, while neglecting to reveal its role in creating and escalating the conflict. The KLA, committed to secession and ethnic exclusivity, murdered large numbers of civilians of all nationalities. It received much of its funding through the drug trade. A pre-war report by the German Federal Criminal Agency concluded, "Ethnic Albanians are now the most prominent group in the distribution of heroin in Western consumer countries." A similar conclusion was reached in 1998 by a Swedish police report, which determined that up to 90 percent of heroin seized in Sweden "can be linked to Kosovo Albanian rings." Despite a record fraught with murder, drug dealing and prostitution, the KLA received the enthusiastic support of the West. Terrorism and criminality were not impediments. The KLA would be a useful tool for destabilizing Yugoslavia. Western support and aid to the KLA transformed a minor conflict into a major crisis. It was the West itself that was responsible for manufacturing that crisis.

A September 24, 1998 report on the Monitor television program on German ARD Television Network revealed that the German Federal Intelligence Service [BND] was engaged in "several illegal arms supplies" to Albania. The BND, acting in concert with the Military Counter Intelligence Service [MAD], channelled military equipment to the KLA. An ex-MAD official claimed that orders for the illegal arms shipments were issued "from the very top."

In August 1998, Albanian Secret Service director Fatos Klosi said that relations with the CIA "were intensified in recent months," and the "CIA specialists" were active in Albania, including the northern region, which was then under the control of the KLA. According to Yugoslav special units expert Stojan Jovich, the entire Kosovo-northern Albania operation before the war "was carried out by American Green Berets," and the KLA fighters maintained "satellite contacts with U.S. intelligence agents who conduct aerial surveillance."

Several monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) patrolling Kosovo during 1998-99 were CIA officers, revealed The Times of London on March 12, 2000. Their function was to provide advice and training manuals to the KLA. The same article reports that Shaban Shala, a KLA commander, met British, American and Swiss intelligence agents in northern Albanian as early as 1996. According to Belgrade’s Politika Ekspres, "a leak from well-informed circles in the [secessionist] Democratic League of Kosovo" disclosed that during a meeting between US envoy Richard Holbrooke and KLA officers at Junik on June 26, 1998, Holbrooke promised the KLA $10 million for the purchase of U.S. arms. One week later, Albanian media reported mysterious flights of U.S. C-130 cargo planes landing at Gjadar airport in northern Albania, a region under the control of the KLA. None of the flights were reported to Albanian air traffic controllers, causing alarm over potential collisions. Paul Beaver, an editor at Jane’s Defence Weekly was told by a Pentagon source, "Even before the air strikes seemed inevitable, a [Military Professional Resources – MPRI] team was there [in Kosovo] giving basic military training in tactics to the KLA field commanders." MPRI is an organization of ex-US military officers, contracted by the Pentagon to provide training to foreign armed forces when it is politically awkward for the U.S. government to be seen as directly involved. KLA bunkers captured by Yugoslav forces often turned up sophisticated Western weapons and U.S. food tins and medical packs.

The Fate of the Roma (Gypsy) People in Kosovo

On August 6, we visited Zemun and met with Jovan Damjanovich, president of the Federal Association of Roma People in Yugoslavia. A passionate man, Damjanovich told us of the horrors visited upon his community by the KLA following the occupation of the province by KFOR. Once Yugoslav forces withdrew, there was nothing to restrain the KLA from pursuing its policy of murdering and driving out every non-Albanian ethnic group and every non-secessionist Albanian. Under the protective umbrella of KFOR, the KLA went on a murderous rampage, killing or expelling virtually everyone who opposed it and leaving in its wake a trail of burning homes.

Damjanovich told us that the European Union (EU) had issued a list of 300 Yugoslav citizens who it banned from travel outside of Yugoslavia. The United States and several other nations also joined in imposing these travel restrictions. Individuals whose names were on the list and who had investments or accounts outside of Yugoslavia had those assets seized. U.S. intelligence agents visited many of the people on the list, implying that their names could be removed from the list if they cooperated with Western attempts to overthrow the democratically elected government of Yugoslavia. There were also hints that uncooperative individuals would face trumped-up war crimes charges. Virtually the entire government of Yugoslavia was on the list, as well as several individuals who were prominent in the society. On December 6, 1999, the list was expanded to 590 names, and more than two months later, on February 28, an additional 180 names were added. Looking over the list of names, I recognized several people we had met, such as Commissioner for Refugees, Displaced Persons and Humanitarian Aid Bratislava Morina and President of the Vojvodina Assembly Zhivorad Smiljanich. In Smiljanich’s case, Western officials supposedly knew enough about him to add him to the list, but not enough to spell his name correctly. Only a complete reading of the list could bring a full understanding of its vindictive nature. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Miloshevich’s daughter-in-law was on the list. The Minister of Sport, apparently, also bore guilt, as did the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Family Care. Also punished was the owner of a fashion-clothing store, the owner of a watch company, bankers, family members of a banker, and the Secretary of the Red Cross. In short, anyone of prominence who had not lent him or herself to the Western project to impose a puppet government was treated as a criminal.

On September 17, 1999, Damjanovich issued a statement condemning the KLA’s pogrom against non-Albanians in Kosovo. "This state of affairs calls into question the justification for the foreign presence," the statement declared, and "the exodus of Serbs, Montenegrins, and the Romanies continues on the lines of the Nazi scenario of fifty years ago, while the world looks on." It was a strong statement, but also a cry from the heart. Damjanovich’s organization faced the daunting task of providing housing and aid for the mass exodus of the Romany people from Kosovo. His plea did not go unnoticed in the West. Nearly three months later, on December 6, he too was added to the EU’s travel ban list. Now the president of the Roma people in Yugoslavia was considered a criminal.

We were driven to a Roma settlement in Zemun Polje, a field located on the outskirts of Zemun. Romany residents here and in Zemun itself had taken into their homes over 5,000 refugees. Coping with this influx placed an enormous strain on the local population. Those who had little still opened their arms to help their fellow human beings. It said much for the people and I was deeply impressed. This was a poor neighborhood, and several of the homes demonstrated an ingenuity for improvised construction with found materials that reminded me of a similar resourcefulness found among poor residents of Bangkok. One home in particular fascinated me, with what appeared to be a fur-covered roof, and a fur tail waving aloft from a pole which protruded from the roof. The moment our cars pulled to a stop, a crowd gathered. We interviewed several Roma and Egyptian refugees who had lost everything. Krashich Tefiq brought his family here from Obilich after KLA soldiers came to his house and threatened to kill him and his family. For two months they had nowhere to sleep until a family here took them in, but life was still hard. "We have no food," he told us, "We are starving. We are begging in the streets for food." Pucho Rezhezha’s experience was similar. His brother was murdered by the KLA, and KLA soldiers threatened that they would also kill him and his family if they did not leave. He too told us he was starving. We interviewed several more people, but when emotions flared, Damjanovich decided to cut short the interviews. As our cars departed, children ran excitedly behind us, enveloped in the dust kicked up by our cars. We passed two boys standing by the side of the road, pumping their fists in the air and chanting, "Yugoslavia! Yugoslavia!"

We resumed our interviews in Zemun the next day. We were immediately surrounded and pressed on all sides by a crowd of refugees, all anxious to tell us their stories and to hear what others had to say. The heat was sweltering, and sweat poured down my back as the crowd closed around me. Estrep Ramadanovich, vice president of the Roma association, told us that 120,000 out of a total population of 150,000 Romany people had been expelled from Kosovo. Ramadanovich himself had taken 20 refugees into his home. "The KLA soldiers don’t want any other ethnic group to be in Kosovo," he explained. "Only Albanians." Bajrosha Akmeti burned with anger. "My daughter, Enisa Akmeti, was raped by KLA soldiers. At night we were sleeping in our house, and KLA soldiers broke in and dragged my daughter out and raped her." Her family’s only remaining possessions were the clothes they wore on the day they were driven from Kosovo. "These are the only clothes I have. I have no food, nowhere to sleep," she said. "Should I sleep on the street?" The psychological effects of bombing persisted. "The children awake at night, calling ‘Mama, Mama,’ and I have nothing to give to them. They are afraid of airplanes. They can’t sleep well. They can’t eat."

Adan Berisha survived KLA torture. He showed us his wife, who was also tortured by KLA soldiers. It appeared as if acid had been poured on her face and arm. The KLA killed their 12-year-old son, Idis, as well as Adan’s father and two of his uncles. "A KLA soldier gave us only three hours to leave our home," Adan said, "or he would kill us." His voice was filled with anguish as he concluded, "Sorrow. A world of sorrow."

"KLA soldiers took everything, all my furniture from my home," Rakmani Elas told us, "and then they burned down my house." Rakmani expressed himself with a passion that swept all before it. "I’m not against the American people," he exclaimed, "but this decision they made strikes me as loony. The rights of every people - the Serb, the Montenegrin and the Gypsy - have been annulled. People are going out to kill, but you, as an army," – referring to KFOR – "just sit there. Did you come here to help or to watch this circus going on? Events now are making history. It is not acceptable what the American people are doing to us. If they came to help, let me see them help. But if they did not come here to help, then everyone - Serbs and Gypsies - will be stamped out."

KLA solders had dragged Ajsha Shatili and her children from her home, and started removing her furniture. "I called three British KFOR soldiers for help. They came, but did nothing," she said. Wiping away her tears, she told us that her son was stabbed in the back when he attempted to stop the KLA soldiers from looting their home. Once their possessions had been looted, KLA soldiers proceeded to burn down both of her houses. Like most of these refugees, she too owned only the clothes that she wore on the day she was driven from her home.

Five KLA soldiers visited Hashim Berisha in search of his brother. "They told me I have just five minutes to produce my brother or they will kill my entire family," he told us. He left immediately and went to his sister’s house. His sister then reported the incident at British KFOR headquarters, where they did nothing about the matter, merely pointing out that she could go wherever she would like to go just so she won’t be killed. Hashim surreptitiously checked on his house the following day, and saw that it had been burned down. His brother was caught later by the KLA and severely beaten, and he too was forced to flee the province.

While KLA and KFOR troops entered Uroshevac, Abdullah Shefik loaded his possessions in his van and drove to escape from the province. Along the way, KLA soldiers stopped him and ordered him to leave the van with them. "American KFOR soldiers stood nearby when my van was hijacked," he told us, "but they did nothing." Everything he owned was in that van.

Bechet Koteshi told us that when British and French KFOR troops entered Gnjilane, KLA soldiers "attacked Serbian and Roma people. KFOR did nothing because they were on the other side of town, but the town is not very big, so they had to know what was happening." Koteshi was in a pharmacy when the shooting began, and promptly left to ride his bicycle home. "Three hundred meters behind me was another man riding a bicycle, and KLA soldiers threw a grenade at him and killed him." Koteshi fled the province because "KLA soldiers searched for my compatriots, to beat and kill them because many fought against them as members of the Yugoslav Army."

A Humanist Scholar, Driven from his Home

Every ethnic group in Kosovo was represented on the Provisional Executive Council, which governed the province up until the entry of NATO troops. On August 8 we interviewed Bajram Haliti, one of the Council’s members. Haliti, who is Romany, also served as Secretary for Development of Information on the Languages of National Minorities. Invariably well dressed and dignified, he was gentle and soft-spoken, and I took an immediate liking to this scholarly man who described himself as a humanist. Two years before, he had published a book entitled, "The Roma: a People’s Terrible Destiny," concerning the genocide against his people during the Second World War, and he kindly gave us each a copy. In his personal library were over 500 books in several languages from many countries on the subject of the Roma and the genocide against them. KLA soldiers burned down both of Haliti’s homes, including the library that he had spent a lifetime collecting. "I can’t set a price on that library," he sadly told us. At the beginning of May 1999, Haliti sent an open letter to President Clinton, protesting the bombing of his country. In the letter, he wrote, "Everyone who cares for peace supports Yugoslavia, its leadership and people, who are fighting for freedom, independence and territorial integrity." Calling for an end to the bombing, his letter declared that "only peaceful means can lead to a just settlement for all national communities which live in Kosovo and Metohija." The letter made an impression. Haliti was placed on the first travel ban list issued by the EU.

Addressing the issue of the rights of the Albanian people in Kosovo, Haliti pointed out that a Yugoslav delegation had arranged 17 meetings with secessionists prior to NATO’s bombardment. "In those negotiations," he said, "we wanted to offer the Albanian people maximum legal, cultural and political autonomy," but the secessionist delegation refused to meet with them. "Every ethnic group was guaranteed all political, cultural and legal rights," but secessionist Albanians boycotted institutions. "People outside of Yugoslavia did not know that Albanians refused to exercise their rights. For example, Albanians boycotted schools in their own language, and told the world that they couldn’t receive an education in their own language." There were 65 newspapers in the Albanian language in Kosovo, he added. "Many of these newspapers advocated secession, to sever ties. Not one newspaper was forbidden. In America, if a group put out a newspaper advocating secession and terrorism, would that newspaper be allowed to publish?"

"Why doesn’t NATO challenge [KLA leader] Hashim Thachi? Why don’t they bomb Hashim Thachi," he asked, "as he carries out massive ethnic cleansing? In Kosmet [Kosovo-Metohija] now, few Serbs remain, few Roma remain and few Gorans remain…. The Roma people are in a very hard situation. It is the same situation Jewish people faced in 1939. At that time, Hitler persecuted every Jew in his territory. And now we have Hashim Thachi. Now Roma houses are burned down. Roma are expelled by the KLA."

"The hostility toward Roma people is because we want a normal life together with other ethnic groups, we oppose division of our country, and we give our political support to the government."

One of our delegation members, pacifist and antiwar activist Ken Freeland, was keenly interested in a journal edited by Haliti, Ahimsa, the title of which was taken from Gandhi’s term for non-violence. "Roma people are a peaceful people," Haliti explained. "The Roma are a cosmopolitan people. Roma do not have a country. The exodus of the Roma people has brought them to every country, where they are loyal citizens who live a normal life. The Roma people have earned the right to give this name to the journal."

Haliti told us that in a few months "we will have our own radio and television frequencies, and a station" called Romany National Television, and that he would editor in chief of the station. I wondered in how many other countries Romanies held government positions. How many other countries had a Romany radio and television station, broadcasting in the Romany language? Were there any, besides Yugoslavia? NATO propaganda had turned reality completely on its head, painting the most multiethnic society in the Balkans, in which every nationality was represented in the Kosovo government, as nationalist and racist.

Haliti and I shared a passion for music, and following our interview we discussed Roma culture, and the contribution of the Romany people to the world of music. Haliti told us that flamenco music originated with the Roma people, and also talked of several prominent Romany musicians, such as jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and flamenco musician Camaron De La Isla.

Twelve days later, Haliti was again interviewed, this time by the Yugoslav news agency, Tanjug. "It is useless to talk about the position and the rights of Romanies, as the UN peace mission is unable to protect any inhabitants of the province, including ethnic Albanians who do not accept the terror of their extremist fellows," he declared. KLA leaders "reject the fundamental democratic and humane principles on which contemporary civilization rests and without which there can be no peace or stability in multiethnic communities."

Destruction in Belgrade

One of NATO’s innovations was a rather novel form of censorship. On April 23, missiles slammed into Radio Television Serbia (RTS) in downtown Belgrade, killing 16. The studio, NATO claimed, was a "legitimate military target" because it broadcast "propaganda," meaning, of course, that it was reporting the effects of NATO’s bombing. RTS Belgrade was passing footage of destruction to Western media, a practice that evidently had to be stopped. CNN had a studio in RTS, but was warned of the attack beforehand and pulled out its equipment and personnel. CNN invited Serbian Minister of Information Aleksandar Vuchich to its studio for a live broadcast interview. Vuchich was asked to arrive for makeup at 2:00 AM sharp on April 23 for an interview scheduled to take place half an hour later. At 2:06, RTS was no more. NATO missiles had pulverized the building. As survivor Sava Andjelkovich recounted shortly after the attack, "A wall behind me virtually vanished, and then the entire wing of the building. We heard screams of wounded people." Another survivor, journalist Milosh Markovich was later to recall, "We stumbled outside through the smoke and fire only to see our colleagues’ heads and arms lying on top of cars and in the streets." Fortunately for Vuchich, he was late for his appointment. His tardiness had spared his life, and when he arrived flames and billowing smoke rising from the ruins of RTS confronted him. Several people were trapped in the rubble, and it was some time before all of the survivors could be rescued.

By the time of our visit, the rubble had been cleared, but the multi-floor building still stood with one wing sheared away, each floor exposed. Nearby, missing railings and smashed windows at the Dushko Radovich Children’s Theater hinted at greater damage within.

For eleven-year-old Ana, "The war was the most frightening thing I ever experienced." Each night, residents in her apartment building would sleep in the shelter. Whenever the huddled group heard the whooshing sound of an incoming Tomahawk missile, they would start sobbing and cover their ears. "Someone would shout, ‘Clinton, fuck you!’ and such things," Ana added. "I was just shutting down. I didn’t know what to do." Her father worked at RTS the night it was bombed. "Thank God he was watching the shelter and he was able to come out quickly." Although her father was safe, many agonizing hours passed before news of his survival could reach the family.

RTS Belgrade was not alone. Radio and television stations and towers throughout Yugoslavia were targeted. Our host Nikola demonstrated what was received on his television. Only static could be found on state channels. Untouched were opposition channels, as well as music video and fashion channels, and always there was access to Western cable. Western media stories about the so-called "media dictatorship" in Yugoslavia, like all Western media stories about Yugoslavia, were less believable for those who visited there. We stopped at the Tanjug Press Center, housed in an aged and unprepossessing building. As we climbed the stairs, delegation member Michael Parenti pointed to several steps that were missing chunks of concrete and quipped, "So this is the well-oiled Miloshevich propaganda machine we hear so much about." Not far away, an opposition-owned television station, housed in a gleaming modern building, towered above its surroundings. The U.S. and European Union funnelled millions of dollars to opposition media in Yugoslavia. Imagine the reaction in the United States were a hostile foreign government to fund American media advocating the overthrow of the government. In Yugoslavia, this media, bought and paid for, operated freely. Newsstands were everywhere, and perusal revealed that a flood of opposition newspapers and magazines vastly outnumbered pro-government publications such as Politika, Borba, and Vecernje Novosti. It presented an interesting study in semantics. A media dictatorship is where state television cannot be viewed, but opposition television can; where there are only three pro-government papers but dozens of opposition papers. In the United States, freedom of the press is constantly lauded. One can pick up any newspaper in any city with the confident expectation that it will have essentially the same content as any other newspaper in any other city. Alternative publications, often tepid and predictable, are marginalized and often difficult to find, virtually to the point of irrelevance.

NATO’s media war against Yugoslavia continued unabated. In place of bombs, more subtle methods were implemented, outside the perception of the American public. As state television stations started returning to the air, transmitters based in neighboring countries jammed it. Such stations as Voice of America, BBC, Radio Free Europe and USA Radio broadcast on Yugoslav state radio and television frequencies. While we were in Yugoslavia, on August 11, RTS issued a statement condemning this "media occupation," pointing out that these "frequencies were awarded to our country by international conventions" and that this "violates all international standards in the sphere of telecommunications." Appeals to international law, naturally, fell on deaf ears in the West.

From RTS, a long trolley ride took us to the Belgrade suburb of Rakovica. There we viewed the 21st of May Industrial Complex. Named for the day in 1944 when Rakovica was liberated from the Nazis, the complex manufactured automobile engines, and like many factories throughout Yugoslavia, it lay in ruins. Now it was merely a mass of twisted wreckage: steel pipes, girders and concrete jumbled together. The deliberate targeting of factories was an extension of sanctions, an attempt at economic strangulation. Over 600,000 people lost their jobs during the period of bombing, raising the number of the unemployed to over two million. Approximately $100 billion damage was inflicted on Yugoslavia, president of the Trade Union Association Radoslav Ilich announced during the war. "This aggression has all the characteristics of a dirty war," he said, "in which workers are the biggest sufferers. Workers and the products of their work have become military targets, and the international progressive public is too slow in awakening." In fact, most of the Western progressive public never awoke from their slumber, not to mention all those on the Western left who applauded NATO aggression.

While in Rakovica, we met a refugee from Bosnia-Herzegovina who had earlier worked in Germany for seven years. He wanted to show us his child’s school, the France Preshern elementary school, one of dozens of schools destroyed by NATO. Virtually every window was broken and several window frames were damaged. The doors were locked, so we were unable to view interior damage. The refugee told us that the school year would begin in two weeks, and wondered where his child would go to school.

Kosovo’s Other Albanians

Later that afternoon we met with three Albanian refugees from Kosovo. All three, Faik Jashari, Chorin Ismali and Fatmir Sheholi, were members of the Kosovo Democratic Initiative, an Albanian political party that favored a multiethnic Kosovo within Yugoslavia and opposed the KLA’s policy of secession and racial exclusion. Jashari is president of the Kosovo Democratic Initiative, as well as a member of the Provisional Executive Council that governed Kosovo prior to NATO’s occupation of the province. Jashari said he was forced to flee from his home in Gnjilane on June 18th because "members of the KLA were showing photos of my family and me to people, trying to find us. I am now at the top of the list of people the KLA is looking for." Jashari lost everything. "My wife and I worked for 34 years, and now we have nothing. Nothing." Barry asked him if he was afraid for his life. "Yes. I am afraid…If they find me, they will kill me." He had good reason to be afraid. The KLA had already murdered several hundred pro-Yugoslav Albanians, and would continue to kill many more. Thousands more were beaten and tortured. In all, Jashari said, the KLA had expelled over 150,000 Albanians from Kosovo, both before and after the arrival of KFOR. He could not stand idly by, and sent a letter to UN Special Representative for Kosovo Bernard Kouchner, asking "to visit with him and discuss the situation in Kosovo and with my party." Predictably, his letter went unanswered. "Where is democracy and pluralism in Kosovo? I can’t go there," he told us. I can’t take part in the political process. Where is democracy?" All of NATO’s pretty-sounding phrases about democracy and human rights, aimed at the Western domestic audience, rang hollow for him.

When asked about reports of Serbian oppression of Albanians, Jashari responded firmly, "It is not true. It is not true. I am Albanian and I have all the same rights as any Serbian."

Chorin Ismali, Under-Secretary for National Social Questions in the Provisional Executive Council, also attempted to meet with Kouchner, and he too was rebuffed. Ismali was forced from his home by threats from KLA soldiers, he explained, "because I supported Yugoslavia and I opposed secession….We want to live with other ethnic groups in Yugoslavia. We do not want to live in a country that has only one ethnic group." Ismali yearned to return home to Kosovo, and in time this desire overrode his fear, as he eventually established a new home in Gornje Godance, just south of Prishtina. On September 1, 2001, Ismali was murdered before the eyes of his family, falling in a hail of bullets from KLA automatic rifles. When I received the news, the blow struck hard, and I cried long that morning. He was a man of quiet and gentle disposition.

Fatmir Sheholi worked in public relations for the Kosovo Democratic Initiative, and was editor in chief at Radio Television Prishtina. "I must point out," he said, "that the Albanian people had more media than did the Serbian people" in Kosovo. "You could find only one newspaper in the Serbian language, but you could find about 65 newspapers in the Albanian language." That one Serbian newspaper was closed down shortly after the arrival of KFOR in Kosovo. Sheholi studied at Prishtina University, and pointed out that Albanian people were able to study in their own language. "I think that America did not have the right information about Albanian people in Kosovo, or did not want to get the correct information about the rights of Albanian people in Kosovo." Jashari and Ismali held positions in the Yugoslav government in Kosovo. Sheholi was editor in chief for the most important radio and television station in Kosovo. They and thousands of other Albanians held important positions in the society, contradicting Western and KLA propaganda. All were expelled from the province by Western-backed KLA thugs because of their support for a multi-ethnic society.

The tragedy that befell Sheholi’s country had disillusioned him. "Until the NATO bombing, I loved and sympathized with democracy in the United States. After studying some facts about democracy in the United States and about negotiations, I’ve learned that there is no democracy in the United States." The U.S., he said, "supported and still supports KLA terrorism in Kosovo. Two years ago, on a night in January 1997, the KLA killed my father. He was called a traitor and killed only because he supported Yugoslavia and the Serbian government, not the KLA regime. He loved living with all ethnic groups in Kosovo." KLA soldiers had also tortured two of Sheholi’s brothers. The day before Sheholi departed Kosovo, a woman from the KLA visited him and "said that if I told people that my father was killed by Serbs, I could have a high-ranking position in the KLA."

Sheholi and his colleagues at Radio Television Prishtina were tricked into abandoning the station when KFOR concocted a phony story about a planted bomb on the premises. KFOR then escorted Sheholi to the border and dumped him outside of the province. After the station was turned over to the KLA, it ceased broadcasting in multiple languages. Subsequent programming was solely in the Albanian language.

Sheholi spoke eloquently of the victims of NATO bombs. During the war, two convoys of Albanian refugees who were returning to their homes in Kosovo were massacred, at Djakovica and Korisha. "In every case, Albanians get hurt from all sides, but mainly from NATO bombing….The man who could command NATO to bomb people is not human. He is an animal. After the bombing at Djakovica, I saw decapitated bodies. I have pictures of that. It is horrible, terrible. I saw people without arms, without feet." Later, I saw disturbing photographs of these victims. I could not view photos of the charred and mutilated victims without becoming enraged. It is impossible to forget such images. "Who is the evil man here?" asked Sheholi. "Miloshevich, who is protecting the territory of Yugoslavia and protecting the people of Kosovo, or Clinton, who bombs us?"

"Now we can see that the United States does not care about any ethnic minority," Jashari added. "Before NATO started bombing us, they said they are protecting the Albanians. You can see Albanians were the victims. If they were protecting the Albanians as they said they were, they wouldn’t be bombing them…. The United States used the Albanian people as the excuse for their aggression." Jashari wondered, "What kind of democracy is it which kills people, kills innocent victims, bombs schools, bombs bridges, buses full of people, and people living in their homes?"

All three rejected NATO’s propaganda line concerning Yugoslav forces. "The KLA is a terrorist group," Sheholi explained, "and the Yugoslav Army is our state’s army. We do not think that our army killed villagers." Jashari firmly stated, "Our Yugoslav Army exists to protect people, not kill them. It’s propaganda. The Yugoslav Army never attacked anyone in Kosovo. They only defended themselves."

Preparation for War Masquerading as Peace Talks

Jashari was a member of the Yugoslav delegation during peace negotiations in Rambouillet and Paris. Despite daily requests by the Yugoslav delegation for face-to-face meetings, Western mediators would not permit direct negotiations with the secessionist delegation. The Yugoslav delegation could only meet with Western officials, who, Jashari pointed out, "would not listen to anyone." U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was particularly obstructionist. "She had her task, and she saw only that task," Jashari said. "You couldn’t say anything to her. She didn’t want to talk with us because she didn’t want to listen to our arguments."

The composition of the two delegations reflected differing attitudes regarding a multiethnic society. The secessionist delegation was comprised solely of Albanians, whereas all of Kosovo’s major nationalities were represented on the Yugoslav delegation. Only a minority of the Yugoslav delegation was Serbian. Western officials "were shocked," Jashari told us, when they saw "not only Serbs, but also Roma, Albanian and Egyptian," as well as Turkish, Gorani and Slavic Muslim representatives. The position of the secessionist delegation was clearly articulated by its spokesman, Bardhyl Mahmuti, in October 1998: "We will never change our position. The independence of Kosovo is the only solution… We cannot live together [with Serbs]. That is excluded." Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovich stated the Yugoslav position: "We want a solution that guarantees equality for every national community and enables everyone to be master of his own fate."

By the end of 17 days of negotiations at Rambouillet, the Yugoslav delegation had accepted virtually the entire package of political proposals put forth by U.S. officials, while the secessionist delegation rejected the proposals. Something had to be done to reverse this undesirable outcome, so just a few hours before talks at Rambouillet were scheduled to conclude, the U.S. delegation unilaterally submitted 56 pages of new proposals, bypassing the procedure for submission through the six-nation Contact Group. The new plan was intended to thwart any possibility of a peaceful settlement and thereby provide a pretext for bombing. It called for occupation of Kosovo by NATO troops. A NATO-appointed Chief of the Implementation could "recommend to the appropriate authorities the removal and appointment of officials," and if elected officials were not removed from office on demand, then the "Joint Commission may decide to take the recommended action." If the Joint Commission failed to carry out its orders, the plan specified that the Joint Commission could be supplemented by NATO personnel when "needed for its implementation." "All facilities and services" throughout Yugoslavia, including the "use of airports, roads, rails and ports" utilized by NATO would be supplied "at no cost" to NATO. Furthermore, NATO would enjoy "unrestricted use of the entire electromagnetic spectrum." Censorship would be imposed on the region, as the NATO-appointed Chief of the Implementation would be responsible for "allocation of radio and television frequencies." The plan granted to NATO personnel, "under all circumstances at all times" complete immunity "in respect of any civil, administrative, criminal, or disciplinary offenses which may be committed by them." Perhaps the most crucial clause was in Appendix B, stating that "NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] including associated airspace and territorial waters." Acceptance of this clause would have brought NATO troops swarming over the entire territory of Yugoslavia, interfering in every aspect of society and every institution. NATO was determined to occupy and colonize not only the province of Kosovo, but also the entire territory of Yugoslavia.

When peace talks later resumed in Paris, Western officials told the Yugoslav delegation that no discussion would be permitted on the proposals they had submitted on the last day at Rambouillet. Only discussion relating to implementation of the proposals was allowed. Meanwhile, Western officials begged the secessionist delegation to sign the plan, and behind the scenes they assured them that disarmament of the KLA would be merely symbolic. Once Western officials obtained the requisite signatures from the secessionist delegation, they aborted the Paris conference and prepared to launch their war of aggression against Yugoslavia. As NATO prepared to unleash its attack, President Miloshevich offered to engage in further peace negotiations. Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos raised the issue with Madeleine Albright, who told him that the decision to bomb had already been made. "In fact," Pangalos later commented, "she told me to ‘desist, you’re just being a nuisance’." The entire peace process was a ruse, designed to fail. "We deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs could accept," explained Albright to journalists at Rambouillet, because the Serbs "needed a little bombing." Miodrag Popovich, a deputy minister in the Yugoslav Information Ministry, in a discussion with two members of our delegation, sharply observed, "Have you noticed that whenever your shuttle diplomats emerged, you always have some conflict or even a war. Now, that gives me the impression that those people are not peacekeepers, but warmakers."

"This Was Murder"

It was time for us to travel to southern Serbia. Money was starting to run low for a few members of our team. After much effort, Barry was able to find a travel company with a startlingly low rate that most could afford. In time, though, the truth of the adage, "you get what you pay for," would be reaffirmed. Within three minutes of our departure our driver drove us into a dead end. "He’s already lost," wryly commented Ken Freeland. Our driver’s solution was direct, and indicative of things to come. Rather than back up, he drove the van onto and across a walkway. We travelled south along E-75, the main highway linking Belgrade with Nish, Yugoslavia’s third largest city. The highway and bridges along the way were bombed at several points, necessitating frequent detours, and our path was circuitous and time-consuming. After an hour or so, our driver turned on the radio. Whenever he tuned to a station playing wonderful Yugoslav folk music, he had the annoying habit of instantly moving past it until he could alight on a station broadcasting insipid American and Yugoslav rock music.

We arrived at Aleksinac shortly before noon. A small mining town with a strong socialist local government, Aleksinac was targeted with a special ferocity. Four times it was bombed. Local officials provided us with statistics that were disturbing for such a small town: 767 houses and 908 apartment flats were bombed, as well as 302 public buildings. Dragoljub Todorovich, a 74-year-old retired teacher, was at the opening meeting. Metal braces encased his left leg and he walked with crutches. His home had been obliterated in one of the attacks. "I had been told for 40 to 50 years that Americans were our friends," he said. "Americans, with Russians, destroyed fascism together. I survived the Second World War. I was a Partisan during the war." Now war had again visited Todorovich. "The bombs dropped about 15 meters from my house," he told us. We were later to see the site of his house. Nothing remained but blasted concrete and bricks strewn about. "When I regained consciousness, I saw that only a small part of skin connected my leg with my body," he said. Todorovich’s leg was saved through surgery, but he will remain crippled for the remainder of his life. He was in the hospital for 14 weeks and suffered a heart attack during his recovery. Enduring constant pain throughout his hospital stay, he asked himself, "Is this American fascism? The worst way possible - that was the way America chose." When we were at the site of the ruins of Todorovich’s home, a man approached to listen to our interviews. He interjected that in World War II, "the Partisans saved American pilots whose planes crashed here. And now they don’t say thanks." Indicating the rubble, Barry replied, "This is their thanks."

We strolled down Dushan Trivunac Street. Almost an entire city block was wiped out. Several houses were destroyed, and many killed and wounded in the bombing. Survivors reported hearing screams and cries for help immediately following the blasts. Despite the staggering scale of destruction here, the rubble had been entirely cleared away by the time of our visit. The site was now a construction area. Neatly stacked bricks and building materials bordered the area, and a dump truck and towering crane stood ready, as workers were just departing for lunch. The only sign of the block’s fate was a neighboring apartment building, scarred and pockmarked by shrapnel from the blast. Further down the street, at the site of another explosion, the foundation for a new building had already been laid.

We turned down Vuk Karadzich Street, and entered an appealing neighborhood of two story homes with red tile roofs and flowers lining the balconies. On the night of April 5, several people lost their lives when bombs fell at the end of this street. In a deposition taken two weeks later, Srboljub Stojanovich described that night. "There was a terrific explosion," he reported. "The windowpanes burst, the ceiling fell down on us, and the walls collapsed, and this practically buried us. After that I could only hear the screams and crying of my family members. My whole body was injured." He and his family managed to dig their way out from under the rubble. "There were heaps of various construction material, glass, destroyed vehicles, and people coming out and trying to help those who were buried. I could hear cries for help, crying, screams, calls, and all this was horrific." Danijela Dimitrijevich, president of the Socialist Youth in Aleksinac, acted as our translator and guide. She told us that she still had frequent nightmares of hearing an air raid siren; causing her to awaken thinking she was going to be bombed. The morning after the first bombing, Danijela arrived for work and found that "everyone was in a big shock. It was unbelievable to us." Fourteen houses in the center of town were blasted apart. "I didn’t expect to see this," she told us. "I cried. It was the only possible feeling for me at that moment. Not just me. The whole town cried. The whole town." Resident Zago Militich told us that her entire family was injured in the attack. She wept as she told us, "We have been friends [with Americans] until now. This is something none of us expected. We always thought they were our friends. I am 65 years old, and now I must think about finding a new home." Photographs taken on the day of the bombing showed a massive amount of destruction. Like other sites in Aleksinac, this neighborhood was largely cleared of rubble by the time of our visit. A power shovel had scooped out most of the debris, and the ground was freshly dug. Adjoining the area, one house had lost most of its roof. Shrapnel had sprayed two apartment buildings in back of the area, leaving dozens of gaping holes and twisted windows. Standing alone before them was a single wall, with a stairway leading nowhere; all that remained of someone’s home. Dragoslav Milenkoje’s home was in one of damaged apartment buildings. "Everything was shaking, breaking apart," he told us. "Large shrapnel smashed through the wall, and everything was on fire." Milenkoje lost everything he owned. His only remaining possession was the set of clothes he was wearing. Without a home, he was staying as a guest in a neighbor’s home.

Missiles struck the firm of Angrokolonijal on April 5. A night watchman, Velimir Stankovich, was killed instantly. At the time of our visit, the main storage building was locked and idle. We peered through a hole and saw that the interior was devastated. A construction inspector had concluded that the building would have to be torn down. We were told that this was a food-processing firm, supplying much of the food for Aleksinac. The registration office near the gate was a ruin. Across the street, much of the roof was torn from the commercial department auxiliary building. A fence, twisted and bent, prevented us from going inside, but what we were able to see from one end of the building hinted at massive destruction inside. The construction inspection determined that these buildings, too, would have to be demolished.

A very short walk led us to Empa, a worker cooperative that manufactured streetlights and lights for factories and homes. On the periphery of the blast radius at Angrokolonijal on April 5, it was directly bombed on May 28. In all the plant sustained more than $300,000 damage. The plant’s director, Slobodan Todorovich, told us that one worker was killed and another wounded. Air raid sirens were virtually a daily occurrence here during the war, and workers stayed at their posts during the bombing as a form of resistance to NATO.

The neighborhood at Nishka and Uzhichka Streets was bombed in the early morning hours of May 28. The walls of several brick houses stood eerily unscathed, while nothing remained of the roofs and interiors. One house appeared to have taken a direct hit. Only a few walls remained, surrounded by piles of rubble. Houses farther away were missing their roofs. Someone had placed a memorial to one of the victims on a wall. We saw these memorials everywhere we went in Yugoslavia. Single sheets of paper or cloth, posted on walls and trees and telephone poles, with a photograph and name of the person killed along with a few comments. The victims were not forgotten. In a communal society, every person killed was seen as a loss for the whole community, not only for friends and family. One woman approached us and spoke of the dead. Her neighbor who was killed was Dushanka Savich, a technical manager in the local confectionary factory that had sustained damage during the attack. "She was a very good neighbor," she said. "She regretted that she never had children." I couldn’t help dwelling on this woman with her failed dream of parenthood. What other dreams did she have? How could she know that one day all of those dreams would instantly vanish, along with her life and all of its joys and struggles and everyday pleasures? Our witness had a message for President Clinton: "I am not guilty and my children are not guilty." Another woman spoke of a man named Predrag Nedeljkovich, killed when an explosion caused a wall to collapse on him. He built his home here only the year before. "He worked very hard in the hospital to help people," the woman told us. "He was not ashamed to do anything. He did everything, from cleaning to managing the hospital. He always had time to talk with people." He was a man of kind and gentle disposition, she added. "We came out of hell but they will not." She paused, as emotions welled up within her. "Predrag is here in my heart," she whispered. A painful moment of silence fell, and then she burst into tears.

Local officials of the Socialist Party took us to lunch at a restaurant on the outskirts of Aleksinac. Even here, one couldn’t escape reminders of the horror that had visited the town. Across the street, a gas station showed a fair amount of bomb damage. At my end of the table sat Zoran Babovich, President of the Socialist Party in the Aleksinac municipality, as well as other Socialist Party officials. Zoran’s English was very good, and Ken and I discussed the Yugoslav economy with him. Social property played a significant role in Yugoslavia. Large-scale industry was state-owned, while most mid-sized firms were worker cooperatives. Most farms were privately owned, but larger agricultural operations were worker cooperatives. Following lunch, we decided to donate money to the town’s reconstruction fund. Our rapidly shrinking resources placed a severe limitation on our contribution, but we gave what we could. They needed hundreds of millions of dollars. We fell rather short of that figure.

We arrived in Nish at 6:00 PM. Our hotel overlooked the Nishava River and an impressive Ottoman fortress built in the early 18th century. One of our delegation members, Jaime Mendiata, accidentally stepped off the elevator onto a wrong floor and discovered that the second and third floors were given to Roma refugee families. This was common throughout Yugoslavia. Refugees were placed in hotels and in the homes of volunteers, and I couldn’t help but think how much more humane this approach was than placing people in tents.

The next morning our van departed for Surdulica, well south of Nish. Along the route, we passed through scenery as gorgeous as I’ve ever seen. Rolling hills gave way to steeper hills and deep ravines. Charming villages nestled on verdant hillsides. The road curved and suddenly we were confronted with a scene that was all the more shocking amidst this beauty. We were at Grdelica gorge. An imposing concrete highway bridge was severed at two points. Passing under the highway bridge at a nearly perpendicular angle, ran railroad tracks atop an incline. Some distance down the track stood a steel railroad bridge, its girders and tracks deformed. Underneath the highway bridge were strewn four incinerated passenger train cars, reddened from intense heat. At the bottom of the incline one car lay, collapsed like an accordion. Two cars, still coupled, lay on their sides a few feet from the track. The fourth car, directly under the highway bridge, was split into two pieces. The end of the car was on one side of the track; a partial frame and little else among the wreckage. The remainder of the car lay on the opposite side of the track, collapsed and fragmented. Emotions flared within me as I viewed the scene. No one inside these cars could have survived. I glanced down at a dirt road running alongside the base of the incline. An elderly man was walking with a cane. He spotted us, and it was apparent he felt compelled to tell me something. With great difficulty, he struggled with his cane to climb the hill. When he finally reached the top, he walked over to me. "This was murder," he said, simply and directly. "Four missiles struck here, and 17 people were killed." He reminded me that a Yugoslav delegation had attempted to meet secessionists for negotiations 17 times prior to the war. "We tried hard to find a peaceful solution. We are a peaceful people." He talked of Yugoslavia’s 26 nationalities, adding that we could see for ourselves how they live among each other. It was true. We had seen.

Seventeen bodies were found, but three additional people were listed as missing. The heat from the blasts was so intense that literally nothing remained of those three. In autopsy photographs, the victims appear to be little more than sticks of charcoal. Once seen, these photographs are impossible to forget. It was impossible, too, to forgive what was done. The autopsy report for one unidentified man is typical. "The carbonization of the head and neck transformed these parts of the body into a brittle, black, and amorphous mass," it reads. Most of the body was carbonized, and several body parts were missing. Similar descriptions can be found in autopsy reports for the other victims.

The train was bombed on April 12, 11:40 AM, just three minutes after it departed from the station in Grdelica. In a deposition taken three days later, Bora Kostich described events that day. During the attack, he and his family were in their house, located just 40 meters from the railroad bridge. Sitting down to enjoy lunch, they heard the "extremely loud noise" of a low flying jet aircraft. "I heard a tremendously loud explosion quite near my house," he said, and "all doors and windows on the south wall of my kitchen were dislocated by the blast and blown into the kitchen together with their frames and broken glass." He and his family were thrown against the northern wall of their kitchen, and Bora’s wife "sustained serious injuries." Bora and his son brought his wife, who was "unconscious and heavily bleeding," outside, in order to take her to his cousin’s house, located at a safer distance. Bora saw the passenger train, and "several people falling from the carriage down into the River Juzhna Morava." They were "not jumping off the train, but were falling uncontrollably." During the next thirty seconds, the NATO jet wheeled around and made a second run at the train. The jet launched a second missile at the train and "another extremely loud explosion was heard. The impact was again on the two burning carriages at the very exit of the bridge," and "the new explosion further intensified the fire." The blast sent "small metal pieces" flying, as well as "human tissue, organs and parts." Bora and his son were climbing a hill with his wife when "we heard a third extremely loud explosion. I saw a missile hitting the middle section of the right side of the highway bridge." The force of the blast knocked them down, and when they got up and continued on their way, a fourth missile struck the highway bridge. After leaving his wife at his cousin’s, Bora and his son returned to help the victims. Ten minutes had passed, and ambulances and cars had already arrived at the scene. When Bora returned to his home, he saw that his yard was littered with "small pieces of human organs, tissue, blood, small metal train parts and missile fragments."

Our van pulled in Surdulica, a small town of 13,000, at 10:30 AM. We met with officials at Zastava Pes, an automotive electrical parts factory that once employed 500. Annual exports from the plant at one time amounted to $8 million. Sanctions not only interrupted export contracts, but also prevented the import of materials, causing a 70 percent reduction in the workforce. The staff at Zastava Pes told us that during the war, bombs and missiles rained down on their town almost every day.

We were first taken to a sanatorium, located atop a heavily wooded hill that overlooked the town. The sanatorium provided care for patients with lung diseases and also served as a retirement home. Refugees were also housed in two of the buildings. Shortly after midnight on the morning of May 31, four missiles struck the sanatorium complex. Two missiles hit the building housing refugees and patients, and one hit the nursing home. At least nineteen people were killed: 16 refugees and three nursing home residents. The actual number of victims cannot be ascertained, because several of the body parts found were unrelated to the 19 identified bodies. Thirty-eight people were wounded. We were told that the force of the explosions was so powerful that body parts were thrown as far as one kilometer away. Following the attack, body parts were hanging in tree branches, and blood was dripping from the trees. By the time of our visit, they had cleaned up, but we could still see clothes hanging from several trees. Although only one missile struck the nursing home, it caused enormous damage. We walked around to the back, on the building’s southwestern side. A section of the second floor was collapsed, and the entire southwestern face showed extensive damage. Mounds of rubble lay at the base of the building. On the northeast side of the complex, the refugee and patient building bore a gaping hole in its façade, from which a river of rubble had poured, like blood from a wound. We entered the building and walked through its rooms. Debris littered the hallways, and in several rooms we found scorched mattresses, clothes, and damaged personal belongings jumbled together in disarray. Bricks and chunks of concrete lay scattered around one room, along with an upturned sink. Shoes and clothes were strewn among the rubble, and a loaf of bread rested against a child’s shirt. In another room, teenage magazines and a child’s school textbooks lay strewn among the wreckage. In the center of the room was a small child’s teddy bear. According to the on-site investigation report of June 3, it took two to three days to dig the bodies from the rubble. An area near the building, the report states, "was covered with parts of human bodies, torn heads, arms and hands as well as bodies partly covered with rubble material, dust, broken bricks, material from roof structure, broken roof tiles, laths, doors and windows blown out." Farther away from the building, several dismembered bodies were found.

We next visited a neighborhood obliterated by NATO bombs. As in Aleksinac, a remarkable reconstruction was taking place. Every trace of rubble was removed, and the earth smoothed over. A bulldozer and a grader were parked nearby, and construction of two new homes had already begun. Local residents came out and talked to us, showing us photographs taken in the aftermath of the bombing. The extent of destruction was appalling. We visited another neighborhood wiped out by NATO bombs. Here too, an energetic rebuilding effort was underway. Smashed automobiles and partially roofless homes were the only physical reminders of the tragedy. Eleven people, including five children, died here on April 27. When air raid sirens sounded that day, they took refuge in the strongest basement on their street. That was the house the missile hit. I vividly recall seeing a photograph on the Internet the next day. It showed the back of an ambulance, doors thrown open. Inside were piled chunks of shapeless human flesh, still smoking - all that remained of those 11 victims, the youngest of whom was only four years old. A "humanitarian" war, NATO propagandists called this. A man named Dragan told us that the house was hit as a result of an errant missile. "They were trying to hit the water supply plant nearby, with two missiles," he said. Another man, Zoran Savich, told us, "The sirens sounded every day. Every day they bombed Surdulica. The bombs were very powerful." Nearly four months had passed since the neighborhood had been bombed, but every time an airplane flew overhead, Dragan’s son would flee into their basement. Quite some distance away was another of NATO’s targets, an Army barracks, abandoned during the war. I climbed atop a mound of dirt to view the barracks, and saw that it too was bombed. But NATO sprayed its bombs and missiles liberally throughout Surdulica. The destruction of an empty barracks was of doubtful military utility. The targeting of a water supply plant was inhuman. There are no words to describe the destruction of entire neighborhoods. Approximately fifty homes were destroyed and 600 damaged on April 27.

We were invited to lunch, and followed our hosts to Vlasinska Lake, located on a plateau near the Bulgarian border. Our vehicles climbed a winding road through stunningly beautiful mountains. My admiration of the beauty was leavened by apprehension, as the sheer cliffs reminded me that I lacked confidence in the ability of our driver. We dined at a building not far from the lakeside, where our hosts displayed the generous and warm hospitality typical of this country.

We planned to stop at Vladicin Han on our return trip to Nish. The combined effects of excellent food and wine soon meant that all of the passengers fell into a slumber. I was sleepy too, but wanted to enjoy the scenery. As we approached Vladichin Han, I reminded our driver to stop there. "Nishta!" he exclaimed. Soon we were driving by the town. "Nothing?" I thought, "What does he mean ‘nothing’?" There’s a bombed building and bridge right before our eyes. Again I urged him to stop. "Nishta!" he repeated, pushing his foot down hard on the gas pedal and accelerating rapidly. He understood me. The exchange awoke our translator. By now, we had already passed Vladichin Han, so I asked our translator to talk our driver into turning around. Despite his best and determined effort, our translator was unable to persuade our driver to stop, and eventually he shrugged his shoulders and went back to sleep, while I sat and stewed. About thirty minutes later, Barry awoke and asked me, "Are we almost to Vladichin Han yet?" "We’ve passed it," I replied. Later that night, Barry read a document put out by the Yugoslav Ministry for Foreign Affairs. "It says here, " Barry told me, "that in Vladichin Han, over fifty percent of housing facilities and state buildings have been destroyed or damaged." He just shook his head.

Terror Bombing of Nish

We returned to Nish, a beautiful old city carpeted with trees. On our first night in Nish, we had met with university professor Jovan Zlatich. During the war, Dr. Zlatich served as commander of the city’s Civil Defense Headquarters. He discussed the bombardment of his city, with particular emphasis on the use of cluster bombs. The widely used U.S.-made CBU-87/B cluster bomb is designed to open at a predetermined height, releasing 202 bomblets over a wide area. As these bomblets explode in the air, thousands of pieces of shrapnel spray an area much wider than the length of a football field. Cluster bombs tend to do limited damage to structures. They are anti-personnel weapons, and their flying sharp metal fragments are intended to tear human beings apart. Dr. Zlatich showed us a collection of photographs of cluster bomb victims in Nish. We viewed page after page of civilians lying in pools of blood, and then, worse, autopsy photographs. What cluster bomb shrapnel does to soft human flesh is beyond imagining, and an anguished silence fell over the room as Dr. Zlatich flipped through the photographs. Viewing them was unbearable. Finally, Dr. Zlatich looked up at us and softly said, "Western democracy."

Now we would have the opportunity to visit these scenes. On three separate occasions we walked down Anete Andrejevich Street and talked with residents. In the early afternoon on May 7, several cluster bombs were dropped on this and surrounding streets. Nine people died here that day, and dozens were wounded. At one end of Anete Andrejevich Street is a marketplace, and the street was crowded with shoppers when cluster bombs burst overhead. The street was narrow, the buildings old and appealing. Evidence of the explosions could be seen everywhere. Shrapnel had left virtually every house pockmarked, and the walls of some homes were gouged by hundreds of steel fragments. There was no place for pedestrians to hide that day. One parked car hadn’t moved since the day of the bombing. It was still there, riddled with holes, its tires flattened, and broken windows covered by plastic. A memorial to each victim was posted at the spot where they died. At the corner of Jelene Dimitrijevich and Shumatovachka Streets, a memorial was posted on a brick wall, commemorating Ljiljana Spasich, 26 years old and seven months pregnant when she was killed. She was only one month away from completing her fifth and final year at medical school. Shrapnel killed not only her, but also her unborn child. Two memorials to Pordani Seklich hung on the front door windows of the restaurant where she worked. She was a cook there, and shrapnel tore through the restaurant’s roof that day and killed her while she worked. Only a few blocks away, a yawning rupture marred a bridge over the Nishava River. It was another act of malevolent vandalism on NATO’s part. Our hotel, across the Nishava, overlooked the neighborhood around Anete Andrejevich Street, and we walked extensively throughout the area. It was entirely residential. There was nothing that could be remotely construed as a military target.

Repeatedly, we were struck by the warm and friendly attitudes people everywhere displayed towards us. Many people told us, "We don’t blame the American people for this. We know they didn’t support this. It’s the government that did this." A rare instance of resentment occurred while we filmed the smashed ruins of the office building of So Produkt, a distributor of salt products. A man walking by stopped, and with controlled anger told me, "America is our enemy." I glanced at the ruins of So Produkt. It did not seem a controversial point. Another occasion occurred as we visited the Jugopetrol fuel depot in Nish. Despite an appointment, we were unable to tour the facility. I wasn’t a participant in the discussion, but my impression was that a few of the workers were not disposed to watch Americans parading through their demolished workplace.

The Clinical Center in Nish was another target of cluster bombs on May 7. Shrapnel by the hundreds shot through the hospital, causing the roof of one section to collapse. When we arrived, workers on scaffolding were laying bricks. They were in the final stages of reconstruction of the hospital’s exterior. The parking lot presented a disturbing site. Scattered about were several burned hulks of automobiles, their interiors blackened and empty. Incendiary cluster bombs had created a fireball, engulfing the parking lot and killing five people. Among the many wounded, nine more were later to die from their wounds. Cluster bombs wounded a total of 70 people both here and in the area of the marketplace. We talked with a man who lived nearby. He told us that in addition to the hospital, 20 houses were also damaged. The incendiary effect brought to mind Djakovica, where NATO bombed a column of Albanian refugees who were returning to Kosovo. According to a wartime report in Jane’s Defence Weekly, NATO was anxious to introduce the newly developed CBU-97 cluster bomb, designed to spray shrapnel heated to intense temperatures and ignite everything it hits. Djakovica was one of the sites that served as a testing ground for the CBU-97. It proved a success. Seventy-three people were killed, and several victims were charred beyond recognition.

The state-owned DIN cigarette factory in Nish was bombed on four occasions. One of the largest factories in Yugoslavia, it employed 2,500 workers. The factory’s deputy managing director, Milivoje Apostolovich, told us that among the munitions dropped on the factory were cluster bombs. Workers found two cluster bomb fragments with messages scrawled on them: "Do you still want to be Serbs?" and "Run faster." Apostolovich estimated the damage to his factory at $35 million. There was a deliberate attempt to smash this and other factories as part of a larger policy to destroy Yugoslavia as an industrial economy. Nothing remained of the tobacco storehouse. It was completely flattened. Two of the larger buildings were substantially demolished. Merely to clear the rubble appeared to be an imposing task. Several of the smaller buildings sustained major damage. Bricklayers were busy reconstructing the canteen. Across the lane, the façade of the factory’s large financial and computer center bore the marks of a cluster bomb, hundreds of gouged holes spread across its face.

One of our last stops in Nish was at the Elektrotehna warehouse. We were told that this warehouse primarily stored electronic kitchen appliances. It was destroyed by one missile on April 7. Virtually nothing remained but the cement slab on which it was built. Rubble was strewn everywhere, and most of the roof of a neighboring house was blown away. While we walked through the debris, Jaime Mendiata stepped on a board and a nail impaled his foot. He was bleeding profusely, so our driver took him to a local clinic. There they wrote prescriptions for a tetanus antitoxin and penicillin. We soon joined Jaime at the clinic and when he emerged, he and two others went to a dispensary to fill the prescription. Jaime inquired about the charge, and was told there was none. Wanting to help, Jaime insisted on paying for the medicine. He asked them to name a price, and was told four dollars. His final stop was at the hospital, to receive the injection. In addition to treating Jaime’s foot, the doctor also gave him a brief checkup. There was no charge for any service. People were placed first, including those from a nation that had just dropped bombs here.

Targeting the Economy

We arrived in the central Serbian city of Kragujevac several hours later than planned, due to an overly ambitious schedule and the delay caused by Jaime’s injury. Despite our belated arrival at Zastava factory in Kragujevac, management staff had waited patiently and they were there to greet us. Zastava was the largest factory in the Balkans, and certainly the largest I’ve seen anywhere. Primarily a manufacturer of automobiles and trucks, Zastava supplied 95 percent of the automobiles operating in Yugoslavia. This diverse factory also produced tools and machinery.

It was far too tempting a target for NATO. Shortly after the inception of NATO’s war, workers at Zastava organized human shields to protect the plants. Zastava workers sent an open letter to the public of NATO countries and email messages to Western leaders and NATO, notifying them of their action. Their letter proclaimed that "we, the employees of Zastava and citizens of freedom-loving Kragujevac, made a live shield," and that workers would remain in the factory "to protect with their bodies what provides for their and their families’ living." In the early hours of April 9, NATO sent its reply to the workers’ letter in the form of bombs and missiles. Miraculously, no one was killed, but 120 workers were wounded, 30 of them seriously. One woman lying on a stretcher, her head bandaged, said, "I can only tell Clinton, we will build a new factory. He cannot destroy everything." Three days later, Zastava endured another onslaught, and 20 more workers were wounded. The six largest plants at Zastava lay in ruins. Interestingly, NATO ignored the plant that manufactured AK-47 automatic rifles. Their motivation was to impose economic ruin.

According to Dragan Stankovich, export director for Zastava, the factory complex in Kragujevac employed 28,000, and an additional 8,000 in associated Zastava factories throughout Yugoslavia, most of which were also bombed. "Of all the catastrophes that befell us," Stankovich said, "we consider the humanitarian catastrophe to be the biggest." One of the components of this catastrophe, he felt, was that workers in many factories depended on Zastava, and with its destruction they and their families, 200,000 people in all, were left without a means of livelihood. Zastava’s director, Milosav Djordjevich, ruefully concluded, "On the nights of the 9th and 12th of April, all our dreams were destroyed in a mere 15 minutes of bombing." It was difficult for him to understand the mentality that could inflict death and destruction. "We couldn’t believe that some people exist who would kill other people." It was all too easy for me to believe, after months of exposure to the ranting of Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Jamie Shea. Stankovich personally witnessed the attacks on April 9th. He was in his apartment during the first detonations at 1:40 AM, which felt "like an earthquake." Approximately eight hours later, he was on the grounds of Zastava when the second assault came. "I saw a series of mushroom clouds," he said, "a series of mushroom clouds, strong light and fire, like an atomic bomb." Strangely, he could hear neither the aircraft nor the explosions. "You could see the explosions and big fires only. You couldn’t hear anything."

The power plant at Zastava supplied electricity, compressed air, hot water and steam for production throughout Zastava. The destruction of the power plant had a wider impact, though, as it also provided heat and energy for the city of Kragujevac. Stankovich told us that "about 15,000 flats, schools, hospitals and other institutions depend on the Zastava power plant for their heat." One massive bomb exploded about 20 to 30 meters over the plant, ripping the roof from the building. "Smashed," a power plant worker said. "Everything was smashed. We have removed everything to be repaired." The resumption of production at the power plant was an urgent task, and they had cleared away the rubble. Two of the eight turbo-compressors had already been repaired. The plant’s transformers were damaged, and two tons of highly toxic PCB pyralene had soaked into the ground and a nearby river. Adding to the ecological woes, depleted uranium weapons exploded here.

Four bombs left the forging plant in ruins. Here components for automobiles were forged, as well as agricultural machinery and railways. Gone entirely was the roof. Mounds of rubble, damaged machinery, and twisted girders confronted us. Scraps of metal debris hung in clumps from isolated and deformed steel bars. The three-story office section of the forging plant had also taken a direct hit, and a large section was blown away. What remained of the upper floors sagged severely. The old forging factory was adjacent, and it presented a stark appearance. Built in 1936, its heavy concrete walls bore the scars of explosions, and its roof was largely missing. When a missile exploded here, concrete columns fell on the heat treatment area, and chunks of concrete and steel were sent flying, injuring several workers.

Djordjevich felt that the paint shop was the pride of Zastava, housing modern robotic production lines. Here the devastation was, if anything, even more extreme than in the other plants. The awesome level of destruction was shocking. Four bombs left the plant roofless and buried in a carpet of rubble. Mountains of twisted and jumbled wreckage rose above the rubble, resembling abstract sculptures. Djordjevich lovingly described the advanced technology used in this plant, adding, "They hit this directly, as you would hit a man in the heart."

The automobile assembly plant was struck by depleted uranium munitions. "Only depleted uranium can do this," Djordjevich told us, pointing to thick steel supports that were burned through by DU, "as if cut by welding." Here too, the level of destruction was beyond imagination. Merely to clear away the rubble would be a monumental task. Fifty-four workers in the plant were injured by the blast and from the collapsing roof. The plant "was very beautiful to see when it was functioning," Djordjevich said. "Now look at it. It’s a sorrow to see."

It was nearing 9:00 PM, and it was too dark to view the truck plant and tools factory, both of which were completely demolished. We were instead taken to the computer center, and they projected vehicle headlights onto the building. It was completely smashed. The force from two bombs was so enormous that it raised the building from its foundation before it collapsed. Two IBM computers, costing $10 million, were lost. The total destruction at Zastava was estimated at $1 billion, straining the Yugoslav government’s ability to finance its reconstruction.

It was an exhausting day, and we had a long drive back to Belgrade. Not long after our departure, I fell asleep. Some time later, I was jolted awake by panicked screams, "Watch out! Watch out! Watch out!" It was not the best way to wake up. I opened my eyes and the impetus for the cries was immediately apparent. We were in the right lane of a two-lane road. Directly ahead of us in our lane was a stalled van, with two people standing nearby. A bus, on our left and slightly behind, was starting to pass us. A good driver would have applied the brakes, let the bus pass, and then change lanes. Our driver maintained his fast speed, barrelling toward the stalled van at an alarming rate. "So this is it," I thought. "This is how I die." My next thought was that all of the documentation we had collected would never make it to the United States; then that people back home won’t know what became of me. No more than ten seconds remained in my life, and time stretched, every second seeming an eternity. I had time to reflect. I recalled a pleasant cruise on the San Francisco Bay and the seagulls’ calls above me. My last thoughts were of my loved ones. Time had slowed down in a remarkable way. I no longer heard the cries of my friends. Either they had fallen into silent contemplation, or I simply no longer heard them. We were closing in on the van, and the bus was directly beside us. Our driver tried to shove the bus off the road. The only sound I heard was a long sustained blast of the horn by the bus driver, as he was pushed half off the road. Now it appeared that only the right half of our van would collide with the stalled van. The side I was sitting on. Only a moment before impact, our driver pushed the bus further off the road, but collision still seemed unavoidable. The violent sound of colliding metal was deafening. I was still alive. Our van had managed to squeeze between the two vehicles, but the side view mirror was torn violently away. I could only wonder what damage was done to the stalled van, as our driver failed to stop, still maintaining the same speed. I hoped that the two people were uninjured. About an hour later, Barry asked me to collect a tip from everyone for our driver. I raised my eyebrow. When I went to the back of the van and asked for tips, Ken was aghast. "Are you out of your mind?" he asked me. "He almost killed us!" Long after the incident, my heart was still pounding uncontrollably. We only lived through several seconds of terror. What then, must it have been like for people here to live through 78 days of terror?

"We Are All Human Beings"

Earlier in the week, I contacted Jela Jovanovich, general secretary of the National Solidarity Committee, and she arranged for us to meet Serbian refugees from Kosovo who were housed at Hotel Belgrade on Mt. Avala, not far from Belgrade. We met at her home, and then walked to the home of Ileana Chosich, who would act as our translator. Ms. Chosich is a playwright, critic and interpreter, and we found her to be warm and delightful company. She was a marvelous storyteller, and I enjoyed her stories during the long taxi ride to Mt. Avala.

When we entered Hotel Belgrade, the misery was immediately apparent. Children were crying and conditions were overcrowded. We were shown all three floors, and the anger among the refugees was palpable. Virtually everyone had a loved one who was killed by the KLA. All of them had lost their homes and everything they owned. At first, many refugees refused to talk with us, and one refugee demanded of me in a mocking tone, "Can you get my home back?" It wasn’t until much later that we discovered that there was a misunderstanding. We had been introduced as collecting evidence for Ramsey Clark, and the refugees thought we were from NATO General Wesley Clark. Once the misunderstanding was cleared up, we were able to conduct interviews, although there was residual reluctance based on their three prior experiences with Western visitors, all of whom treated them with arrogance and contempt. Several of the refugees were too upset to talk. At one point I asked to interview a young girl whose father was killed by the KLA, and the girl ran from the room in tears. The eyes of one woman and her son still haunt me. I could see everything in their eyes, all that they had suffered. Every refugee in this hotel was from the Suva Reka municipality, and by the time of our visit, the KLA had driven out or killed virtually every Serb in Suva Reka.

In one room on the third floor, eight family members resided in one room, their mattresses laying side by side from one end of the room to the other. An 80-year old man reclined on a mattress, his cane nearby. His silence conveyed an aura of sorrow. One refugee wondered, "Why did the Americans and the Germans come? Why did they come? Did they come to protect us, or did they come to massacre us, to drive us from our homes, to violate our women, and to kill our children?" She pointedly remarked, "I can’t believe that someone who had first bombed you for three months, every day and for 24 hours, that after that he will come to protect you. I wonder how Clinton can’t be sorry for the children, at least. Are there children in your country? Does he know what it means to be a child?"

Nikola Cheko had an expressive manner when he spoke. "No one is taking care of us. KFOR. Nothing! They couldn’t care less for poor Serbs," he told us. "It’s a shame for KFOR, for the United States, for Great Britain, for France, for Germany, and all the big powers of the world. We are all human beings. We have the right to live. The nationality, the race and the religion are not important at all. A human being should first be a human being. A true human being is the one who is ready to help the victim in need."

The KLA had kidnapped two of Biljana Lazich’s brothers and eight of her cousins. Over one year had passed, and still there was no word of their fate. "We were afraid of the KLA," she told us, "and we wouldn’t allow our kids to leave our houses. They were all locked inside. We didn’t allow the children to play outside at all. We were particularly afraid for the children. The situation was unbearable. We had to flee, to save the children at least."

Before the war, during the period when the OSCE Kosovo Mission was present, Stana Antich’s 13 year old son was kidnapped by the KLA while he was on his way to visit an aunt and uncle. When Antich asked OSCE Kosovo mission head William Walker to intervene, he told her that in order for her son to be freed, she would have to replace him as a hostage of the KLA. It was an impossible condition, one that would mean torture and death. Shortly thereafter, the boy was murdered by his captors.

When Dostena Filipovich fled from her home, she and her family went to another village, but saw that people there were also fleeing. The roads were packed with refugees, and she was trapped in Prizren for some time. While in Prizren, KLA soldiers fired on her column of refugees. KFOR troops nearby only laughed at the sight of KLA soldiers blasting away at refugees. Later, the refugees stayed overnight in a village where KFOR troops arrived and disarmed them, handing their guns over to KLA soldiers.

The KLA had decimated Boze Antich’s family and circle of friends. Several friends and family members were ambushed while travelling to do repair work at the 14th century Holy Trinity Monastery. After KLA soldiers killed the driver and some of the occupants of the car, they pushed the car down a cliff. Then they climbed down and pumped several bullets into the survivors. Not long afterwards, KLA soldiers looted the Holy Trinity Monastery and then burned it. One month later, they dynamited the remains of the monastery, one of over 80 historic churches and monasteries in Kosovo demolished by the KLA. Several dated back to the Middle Ages, and some were UNESCO-designated world historic sites. "If someone is human, he should at least be sorry for the little children who have been murdered," pleaded Antich. "Because all of the children of this world are children in the first place, regardless of their religion, race and ethnic origin. What is the future of our children now? They have no homes."

Sava Jovanovich showed us photographs of his demolished home. Scrawled on one wall was ‘UCK’, the Albanian initials for ‘KLA.’ Another message read, "Return of Serbs prohibited." He and his four brothers lived in houses next to each other. Now, nothing remained of their farm. Sava’s father stayed behind to protect their property, but there was no word of his fate. One month after I returned to the United States, I read a report from Tanjug about the refugees in Hotel Belgrade. Sava had finally received news of his father. A gang of Albanian thugs had hanged him.

Following the interviews, we returned to the home of Ileana Chosich, and she kindly gave me a copy of her play, "Requiem for Destroyed Destinies." Later I read the play, and was struck by a passage in which the protagonist says, "When I think of my foster parents, their intellectual refinement and dignity, I can’t say how lucky they were to have died in time..." I remembered my cousin Rob expressing similar sentiments about his father; glad that he didn’t live long enough to see the dissolution of his country. Perhaps Westerners can’t understand the depth of pain Yugoslavs carry in their hearts because of the dismemberment of their country. My grandparents on my father’s side left Bosnia-Herzegovina for the United States in 1912, just four years after the province was annexed by Austria-Hungary. My grandfather emigrated in order to avoid being drafted into the army of the oppressor. Two years later, Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, and ultimately one quarter of the entire population of Serbia would perish in the world war. All my life I dreamt of visiting Yugoslavia, but it was beyond my financial means until the old Yugoslavia was no more. This was my first trip, and it felt like a return home. This communal society was a vivid reminder of what matters in life: family and friends. My imagination, though, never conjured such circumstances for my visit: a nation choked by sanctions and pummelled by thousands of bombs and missiles. The spirit of the people was undiminished, however. In conversation with one man in Novi Sad, I mentioned that NATO’s invasion plan called for a two-pronged attack, in which one would advance from the south through Kosovo, and the second thrust down from the north, through Vojvodina. His city lay squarely in the path of the planned invasion. He responded that the entire nation was determined to resist a NATO invasion. "Ordinary people, without arms," he said, "would have fought NATO with their bare teeth." I interpreted our frequent encounters with posters of Che Guevara in Belgrade as another manifestation of the spirit of resistance. At the beginning of the war, people formed human chains, their arms linked together, to defend their bridges. There was a widespread commitment to a multiethnic society, in defiance of NATO’s attempts to carve up the region into small mono-ethnic colonies. Many were determined to resist domination by NATO. They carried within themselves the spirit of their ancestors who struggled for five centuries to free themselves from occupation by the Ottoman Empire, and they knew something NATO didn’t. History is long, and occupation and colonization cannot be permanently imposed.

War’s End

After the end of the war, Western reporters expressed surprise that after 78 days of bombing, NATO had succeeded in destroying only 13 Yugoslav tanks. Yugoslav troops withdrawing from Kosovo appeared untouched. NATO’s grandiose claims of military success fell like a house of cards. Camouflaged weaponry eluded NATO bombs, while dummy tanks, bridges and missile emplacements were repeatedly hit. Burning automobile tires attracted Tomahawk missiles, and rolls of black plastic sheeting were unfurled to mimic highways, indistinguishable from the real thing for high-flying aircraft. Before the war, the Yugoslav Air Force quickly and efficiently redeployed 50,000 tons of materiel over a total of 6 million miles. NATO was outsmarted. Immensely powerful forces failed to defeat the army of a small nation. Perplexed commentators in the West wondered why Yugoslavia agreed to withdraw from Kosovo, given NATO’s abject failure. It seemed a mystery.

It wasn’t a mystery for people in Yugoslavia. Surely aware of its failure, NATO almost immediately resorted to a campaign of terror bombing. Every town and every city in Yugoslavia was a target, and the entire territory was saturated with bombs. The evidence was everywhere we went, and what we saw constituted only a small fraction of the total destruction. It would have taken months to witness it all. Terror bombing prepared the way for final negotiations, when European Union mediator Martti Ahtisaari, accompanied by Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, visited President Miloshevich on June 2. According to Ahtisaari, "at the cost of a major effort," prior to the meeting, "we achieved a final communiqué, signed by both the Russians and by the Americans." Russian acquiescence, he felt, placed Miloshevich "in a corner." The two were assigned the task of delivering NATO’s final terms.

Ljubisha Ristich, president of the Yugoslav United Left, described the final negotiations in an interview for the June 7, 1999 issue of Il Giornale. A close colleague of President Miloshevich, Ristich’s party was a close coalition partner with the Socialist Party. On the evening of June 2, Ahtisaari opened the meeting by declaring, "We are not here to discuss or negotiate," and he and Chernomyrdin read the text of the plan. According to Ahtisaari, when Miloshevich then asked about modifications to the plan, he replied, "No. This is the best that Viktor and I have managed to do. You have to agree to it in every part." Ristich said that Miloshevich accepted the papers and then inquired, "What will happen if I do not sign?" Ahtisaari swept his arm across the table that separated them, pushing aside a vase of flowers. "Belgrade will be like this table," he declared. "We will immediately begin carpet-bombing Belgrade. This is what we will do to Belgrade," and he repeated the gesture. A moment of silence passed, and then Ahtisaari added, "There will be half a million dead within a week." Chernomyrdin’s acquiescence confirmed that the Russian government would do nothing to oppose carpet-bombing. President Miloshevich met with leaders of the governing coalition, telling them, "The main thing is, we have no choice…to reject the document means the destruction of our state and nation." Ristich concluded, "We had to save the people." Three weeks later, in a speech delivered before both chambers of the Assembly, Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovich announced that "diplomatic mediators….spoke of future targets to be bombed, including civilian victims counted in the hundreds of thousands." Contrary to Western leaders’ demonization of President Miloshevich, their terrorist threat revealed that they expected him to possess more humanity than they themselves did, and to accept the plan in order to avoid a bloodbath.

Occupation

It wasn’t long before NATO violated the peace agreement. While NATO dawdled over entering Kosovo, the KLA went on a rampage, looting and burning homes, murdering and expelling thousands of Serbs, Roma, Turks, Muslims, Gorans, Egyptians, and pro-Yugoslav Albanians. Miloshevich was livid, and shortly after midnight on June 17, he phoned Ahtisaari and complained that NATO’s delay in entering Kosovo allowed the KLA to threaten the population. "This is not what we agreed," he argued. It hardly mattered. Once NATO troops entered Kosovo, they did nothing to deter KLA attacks against the populace. The KLA was free to carry out its pogrom against all non-Albanians and pro-Yugoslav Albanians. A great many refugees testified to us that attacks took place in the presence of KFOR. Arrests have rarely been made, and those arrested were usually released within hours. Yugoslav security forces, under constant bombardment, were castigated in the Western media when it took a few weeks for them to restore order in most of Kosovo. No one is dropping bombs on KFOR, yet they have yet to attempt to restore order. NATO Lt. General Mike Jackson excused this inaction with the comment, "It is a reality that KFOR cannot be everywhere all the time." Disarmament of the KLA was a farce. Russian military and diplomatic sources report that this was "a mere decorative step." Fewer than 5,000 weapons, mainly obsolete, were turned in by the September 19, 1999 deadline, although KLA forces numbered at least twice that. "A larger part of their armaments is actually kept in the KLA’s depots," the sources said. Meanwhile, police have discovered KLA arms caches hidden in the hills of Macedonia. KLA soldiers openly carried automatic rifles. KFOR’s response to disorder was to create the Kosovo Police Force, comprised almost entirely of members of the KLA. Other KLA members have also joined the newly created Kosovo Protection Corps, an organization of vague purpose, lightly armed but permitted to keep its heavy weaponry in storage. UN and NATO officials are fully cognizant of the nature of their creation. A United Nations internal confidential report, dated February 29, 2000, admitted that the Kosovo Protection Corps engaged in "criminal activities – killings, ill-treatment/torture, illegal policing, abuse of authority, intimidation, breaches of political neutrality and hate-speech." The KLA burned down over 50,000 homes in the year following NATO’s entry into Kosovo. Over 1,000 Serbs and 800 Roma were murdered during the same period, as well as many Turks, Albanians, Gorans and others. NATO has seized a multiethnic province, and transformed it into a mono-ethnic and racist state policed by criminals. In time, the terror would spread, as NATO’s Frankenstein monster, Albanian extremism, would launch a secessionist war against neighboring Macedonia. KLA troops and arms poured across the border from Kosovo, swelling secessionist forces in Macedonia engaged in burning homes, expelling people from their homes, and attacking police and the Army.

For all the rhetoric, the war was never about "human rights," that amorphous term that never seems to apply to U.S. client states. One man I talked with was closer to the truth when he told me, "I think our President Miloshevich is more of a problem for imperialism than for us." This truth slipped out during a speech President Clinton delivered on the day before he started bombing. Buried in the bombast about human rights, he declared, "If we’re going to have a strong economic relationship that includes our ability to sell around the world, Europe has got to be a key…. Now, that’s what this Kosovo thing is all about." The war was merely an extension of long-standing policy. During the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in early 1992, Vladimir Pavichevich, chief of the Yugoslav delegation, was confronted by aggressive Western demands. Some Western diplomats told him that "additional pressure must be exerted to achieve the goal, regardless of the consequences." Western diplomats, Pavichevich claimed, were applying "pressure for us to fit into the new European order. The United States wants Yugoslavia within the framework of the new international order, and certainly not opposed to it. It has been saying this both publicly and in conversation." And now they’ve said it with bombs. The Western-sponsored Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe called for widespread privatization and Western investment. A socialist Yugoslavia, centrally located in the Balkans, formed an impediment for Western plans to impose a neoliberal economic model on the Balkans, in which the region’s interests would be subordinated to those of Western corporations.

No opportunity was missed. Chapter 4a of the notorious Rambouillet plan stipulated that "the economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market principles," and allow for the free movement of international capital. Having seized Kosovo, Western forces set about the task of dismantling the social economy. Installing a new monetary regime is seen as a linchpin of the effort, and Western administrators soon opened the Micro Enterprises Bank, chiefly financed by Germany and the Netherlands. On September 3, 1999, Bernard Kouchner, head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, decreed that the German mark would replace the Yugoslav dinar as the official currency in the province. Anyone using the dinar would be required to pay a penalty fee with each transaction. The largest lead and zinc mines in all of Europe are located at Kosovska Mitrovica. Owned by the Yugoslav firm Trepcha, these mines, as well as the firm’s silver and gold mines and factories throughout the province, are operated under the U.N. Kosovo administration. NATO soldiers dismissed management officials at virtually every state enterprise in Kosovo, replacing them with secessionists. On July 6, 1999, armed NATO and KLA soldiers expelled the entire workforce from Jugopetrol in Kosovo Polje. Coal reserves in Kosovo are estimated at 15 billion tons, the largest in the Balkans. These mines, too, were seized. The last unit of the Trepcha mining complex outside NATO’s control was the smelting plant in Zvechan. On August 14, 2000, 900 NATO soldiers backed by helicopters raided the plant. Trepcha Director General Novak Bjelich, a native of Kosovo, was arrested by KFOR troops, held for three hours and then ordered to leave the province and never return. Officials of the UN Kosovo Mission quickly signed an agreement in which they turned over the operation of Trepcha mining complex to a consortium of French, Swedish and American corporations. Discussions on privatization of all of Kosovo’s state enterprises are underway, and Western corporations are positioning themselves to pick up the spoils. U.S. Metals Research Group Corp. signed a contract on July 30, 1999, for a concession on four copper mines in Albania. The firm’s president, Robert Papalia, commented, "Our hope is that starting from Albania, we can also in the near future see what is available and what we can do in the surrounding areas such as Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro."

A People Unbowed

The war ended only two months before our visit, yet we witnessed a miracle. A remarkable reconstruction was taking place. Damage to the Beshka Bridge, on the highway linking Belgrade with Novi Sad, had already been repaired. There was no sign of damage. Rubble had been removed at Aleksinac and Surdulica, and construction of new houses begun. Responsibility for reconstruction was assigned to the Serbian Directorate for National Recovery when it was formed just ten days after the war’s inception, and they immediately launched an energetic program. In one year’s time, 41 highway and 15 railway bridges were rebuilt, including the railway bridge at Grdelica. Over 560 housing units were reconstructed, as well as four heating plants and ten schools. An additional 121 construction sites were opened, and work started on 600 more housing units. People who lost their homes in the bombing were given keys to their fully furnished, newly built homes. The oil refinery at Novi Sad, devastated by repeated attacks, already resumed production only two weeks after our visit. By March 1, 2000, all plants but one at the Azotara fertilizer complex in Panchevo were reopened. In Novi Sad, a new bridge, located just 70 meters upstream from the ruins of the Zhezhelj Bridge, was built in only three and a half months. A second bridge in Novi Sad, the Varadin Rainbow Bridge, was completed on September 22, 2000, built in only seven months. The most astounding news, though, was the resumption of production at Zastava. Given the astounding level of destruction we witnessed, this news was almost beyond my comprehension. I can only assume that production was shifted to the less damaged and smaller plants. That would still entail reconstruction of machinery on a heroic level, overcoming a sanctions-induced lack of spare parts. By January 2000, eighty percent of the rubble was cleared at Zastava. The following month, Zastava manufactured over 1,200 automobiles, 750 of them for export, and resumed limited production of commercial trucks. The entire nation threw itself into the task of rebuilding. We saw only the beginnings of this effort, but those first efforts deeply impressed me. It was singularly inspiring, as nothing else I’veglobalresearch.ca/globaloutlook/form.html ever seen.

For 78 days, tiny Yugoslavia held out against an onslaught by the most formidable military force in the world. An ugly barbarism has descended on the globe. During an era when the world trembles before Western power, forced to follow its dictates, Yugoslavia presented a stirring example of independence. A portion of its territory was torn away and occupied, but it defeated NATO’s attempt to destroy and seize the entire nation, only to fall to covert operations more than a year later. The brutality of the West and its quest for economic domination opened the eyes of many people in Yugoslavia, compelling them to cast aside old illusions about Western democracy. Nikola Moracha, who in earlier years lived in the United States, was one whose view had soured, as revealed in his impassioned appeal. "The whole world, including Russia, China, India, all of Asia and Africa, will wake up and stand up and say, "No more! No more exploitation of poor people. Why should you kill us because your kids should live much better than my kids? Why should you kill us?" U.S. leaders were "killers," Moracha said, and his message to them was, "This world belongs to everyone – not just to America."

On our last day in Belgrade, Danka gave us a message. "I hope this will be the last time that someone is bombed just for some uncertain dirty political goals. The real victims of bombing are just ordinary people, mothers, children and elderly people. I do not wish for anyone to go through what we went through. None should suffer for the foolishness, self-admiration or vanity of politicians."

 


Copyright Gregory  Elich  2002. 


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