Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Burning the US Embassy in Belgrade Serbia - America At Fault

Belgrade was peaceful and full of post-election hope when I was there around Valentine's Day. We were so convinced that things might, at last, be getting sustainably better, that we'd even started looking for a condo to buy there.

We took a quick break from real estate -- which can be incredibly wearing in the Balkans for reasons I'll happily bitch about in further posts -- and drove down to Montenegro for a few days because I'd never seen it. Then we heard the news on the car radio. Or rather my husband heard, I don't speak enough Serb yet to understand everything, and then he swore and hit the dashboard repeatedly with his fist. That plus the word "Kosovo" pretty much gave me the picture.

My reaction - well the US Embassy were idiots not to have more protection in Belgrade. In Croatia's capital Zagreb, there's a new US Embassy built waaaay out by the airport pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Croatians, who are fairly friendly with the US, have to drive for ages, then get permission from armed guards to enter the parking lot, then walk about 150 yards in the open to get to a security bunker that you are only allowed to enter one at a time. The 3-4 burly guards make you empty your pockets, pass through metal detectors, examine your ID, etc. Then you have to walk another long path in the open (presumably so you can be studied and snipers can get you) to the actual embassy chancery building itself. The chances a gang of 1,000 probably drunk, pissed off natives are going to make it in to trash the place are exactly nil.

So, why is the US embassy in our friend Croatia protected to the teeth and apparently the one in Serbia - a place we bombed less than 10 years ago and are having testy relations with now - is Easy As Shit for a Mob to Burn?

Can you say, "asking for it?"

Do Serbs really hate America that much? Actually most are incredibly nice to individual Americans they meet. And they are well educated and intelligent people (often better than Americans I know.) But, it's been a long cold, grey winter. There's significant unemployment. People drink. A lot. Politicians have been rabble-rousing to get votes. Young people have grown up seeing nothing ever go right for their country. First they do badly in the civil war, then they get bombed by NATO for activities most weren't in favor of in the first place, and then there's year's of economic sanctions that scupper the economy and make surviving your full time job. And then Montenegro bails on them. And now this.

It's my opinion that many older Serbs are resigned to nothing ever going right. Most younger Serbs are INCREDIBLY frustrated. How often can you hope and then have foreign and political affairs far out of your specter of influence bash your hopes down again and again and again?

These are not bad people. They are wonderful people who have been pushed a bit too far for years and years and years. Something had to snap, a bunch of younger people who were probably unemployed, drunk and worked up by the polemics spewing in the Serb media got pissed off and kicked some American ass.

We deserved it.

1 comment:

K said...

The US has recognized for a while that the Belgrade Embassy is unsafe and not secure (shares a wall with another building, is right downtown with no way to be fenced off etc), but the government had to go through lots of paperwork to get a budget to build a new secure embassy. It was approved (in the FY 2008 budget I think) and construction probably is underway already, out in a suburb.

The US has a few Marines in Belgrade, who had to protect the Embassy that night, and I honestly feel really sorry for them. There weren't enough to barricade the building, and they probably didn't have appropriate weapons (non-lethal like tear gas or something - I'm not a weapons expert and don't have a clue what they had available - pure speculation). So they were in the most important rooms of the Embassy to protect information or assets, knowing that they really couldn't shoot any of the intruders because that would escalate the anti-American sentiment. They must have been a bit powerless really.

And apparently it's the host country's responsibility to protect the building itself? I'm not sure but got that impression from news reports. Surely the Serbian government could have predicted violence at the Embassy, seeing as how people were stoning it the day before, and there were hundreds of thousands attending the planned protests a few blocks away that night. Serbia probably should have sent more police to the Embassy that night. Though I imagine they wanted such a reaction to occur and were happy to allow a bit of it before stepping in to prevent it getting out of hand.

It is such a messy political situation, and I wish the US had stayed out of it and let Kosovo and Serbia truly negotiate (or at least try). I really don't understand why the US made promises to Kosovo so early on? Whether or not independence was the best solution, it wasn't our business to upset the regional power balance by throwing our weight on one side!