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

Monday, March 24, 2008

What Did You Do During the NATO Bombing?

Nine years ago today NATO began bombing Serbia for 78 days. I'm not a political creature, and don't want to consider reasons, rights, wrongs and idiocies (of which there were plenty on all three militant sides - America/NATO, Yugoslavia's leadership & Kosovo's population.)

As an American, my primary knowledge of what it's like to be bombed is the perspective of London's Blitz. (Loads of other nations have been bombed, but few have turned it into a 60+ year PR event celebrating their national stiff-upper-lip and carry-on attitude.) Although it feels far too crass, especially as an American, to go about asking Serbs, "What was being bombed like for you?" I've quietly collected stories from many friends and family over the years that I think reveal something about the Serb national character.

On the bad side, it's a sense of inevitable victimization -- as in, 'Woe is me, big bully nations are underhandedly ignoring justice, painting us as the only blackguards, and hurting Serbs to achieve their own agendas.' To which my answer is, if you think you're going to be a victim, of course you always will be. It's also a sense of political idiocy -- as in, although Serbs are otherwise intelligent people, they frequently give assholes positions of political power. (This is a lot like an otherwise smart woman who keeps on picking rotten boyfriends.)

On the good side, Serb character is also good cheer (despite all the odds), black humor, artistry, and companionship. Here are some things my friends and family did during the bombing:

- Wore silly t-shirts with a big circle painted on that said "NATO Target"

- Got together a bunch of friends for a giant group drumming-fest, to bang the fear away.

- Bought all the wine and caviar possible with grocery money instead of regular groceries, because if you're going to be bombed and possibly die, you may as well have a great time while you're waiting.

- Painted giant wall murals inside their houses, painting and painting as the bombs fell. And, naturally inviting friends over to add their contributions to the work.

- Asked neighbors who didn't have a basement to come over and sleep in your basement so they'd feel safer.

- Walked from their New Belgrade flats to Belgrade University every single day to send email to relations in the US so everyone would know they were ok. (Driving us all nuts with worry they'd be hurt while walking to and fro of course!)

The bombing also revealed a bit about NATO and US military intelligence and targeting, the best description of which is the acronym SNAFU (situation normal all fucked up). I especially can't figure out why we bombed Novi Sad and areas around Sombor Serbia where the population was already mostly unhappy about its government. To understand this: it's as if NATO wanted to stop US involvement in the Viet Nam war in the 1970, so they bombed Berkeley California.


Ninac said...

My memories from the bombing period: being together, a pause... everything stopped for a while.... but the spirits were not low... life was more normal than one would expect... Concerts in Belgrade, defiance, eating a lot, thinking a lot, unfinished last semester of high school and an early graduation...
And everyone was waiting for something... a resolution. We knew it couldn't go on for long. And it didn't... only the sound of sirens stayed with us not so briefly.
One funny memory: a few months before bombing, there was an earthquake in Belgrade and surrounding area. Not too strong, but one could definitely feel it, and our high school student dorm was evacuated in the middle of the night. It was the first earthquake experience of my life, and it definitely left an impression on me.
During the bombing, back in my hometown, my sister and I woke up in the middle of the night to a shaking of our apartment building. Bombs? But there was no explosion, in fact no sound. After a few seconds it dawned upon us: oh, it's just an earthquake...
We were back to sleep almost immediately after.
I received an acceptance phone call from a college during the bombing, and in the summer, when that strange bombing episode was over, I got my visa, packed two small bags, and left for - you might be guessing - the US... The country that had bombed us, yes... but there had been more bizarre moments of my life.
And I had applied to colleges before all the mess. And politics and real life seemed so divorced. And life had to continue...

Anonymous said...

HI, i just stumbled upon your blog via google. I have read all the entries up to this article and only now decided to leave a response. I think you have the "bombing" thing all wrong, all those people were very lucky, its like saying yeah i lived in Tokyo while Hiroshima got nuked, i know what nuclear bombs are like. I was refugee from Croatia who lived in Kosovo while bombing was going on and its not happy go lucky affair, with drumming and painted targets on your chest. I could go into huge long "rant" about it is but i wont, except to say its very violent and scary when its so close you are knocked down or wounded, and parts of humans and their houses are thrown hundreds of meters around. Anyway, i love this blog, and imo you should publicize it more, how about posting each one on serbiancafe.com english section with the link to your blog, and some other Serbian websites? I think its very interesting blog, very well done and i respect you for some reason. All the best from "croatian" Serb.