Postcards from Yugoslavia

E-mail lets ordinary citizens get their story out to the world.

Published March 30, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

With few Western journalists inside Yugoslavia, e-mail from residents has become a lifeline for anyone seeking on-the-ground accounts of the NATO airstrikes and the reaction to them. Salon has received e-mail from readers and others who are bent on ensuring that Americans see what's going on inside their country. Some of the dispatches below may repeat Serbian disinformation received from state media; some may contain eyewitness accounts unavailable to date in the West. We have changed the names of those who might be endangered by their writing. Postcards from Yugoslavia will run periodically in Salon during the Kosovo crisis.

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From Dusan Djordjevich, a Serbian-American Ph.D. candidate in history at Stanford University. He is currently in Belgrade doing research for his dissertation.

Saturday evening, March 27

Air-raid sirens have just sounded in Belgrade, marking the fourth night of NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia. There were two waves earlier today of 2-3 hours each, the last one ending with an all-clear signal around 4:30 p.m. (One quickly learns to distinguish the two signals with the help of civil defense bulletins on TV and brochures stuffed this morning into mailboxes.)

For the moment, most who live and work in Belgrade's central districts don't fear direct airstrikes. In the outskirts and across the Save River in the high-rises of the post-WWII settlement "New Belgrade" -- from where residents hear, see and feel explosions against nearby targets -- people feel much less secure. Many spend the evenings in shelters and basements.

Daytime is calmer, a chance to relax a bit, try to catch up on lost sleep and gather news of the previous night's attacks. Evenings (for those not in shelters) are spent on the phone to family and friends, and listening to the news. For those who have them, satellite dishes and short-wave radios provide news from West European stations to complement the local reporting. There's also the Internet, of course, but very few people have access to it. Even with various sources available, it is sometimes hard to get an accurate picture of events; both Western and domestic coverage is taken with a grain of salt.

It is hard to relax and escape even briefly from the pressure of the situation. Already on Tuesday, the day before the bombing began, those who wanted to watch the Schwarzenegger comedy "Twins" on TV were greeted instead with the historical drama "The Battle of Kosovo." Other shows are preempted by old Partisan vs. German WWII movies or by classical music concerts. On Friday night there was a surprise broadcast of "Wag the Dog," with an introductory reminder about its current relevance.

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From Tijana Mirovic, a psychology student at the University of Belgrade and a volunteer at the First Children's Embassy, a humanitarian organization based in the Yugoslav capital.

Saturday, March 27

This has gone too far! It is an unbelievable outrage! Yesterday we were sitting in our shelters listening to bombs destroying our city and our people. For those of you who still don't know what to think about these aggressions I will share some of the information that we got:

  • Yesterday they bombed 17 spots in Belgrade! Among them : a hospital, four schools and a factory with toxic material (which got spilled and jeopardized the lives of all civilians living in that area).
  • In Kosovo their bomb damaged a 6-centuries-old (and UNESCO protected) monastery, Gracanica.
  • In Nis their bombs destroyed a hospital.
  • In Kragujevac they bombed the car industry (that produces Yugo) which feeds 35.000 families. As response to that, workers have decided to form a 24-hour "wall of people" which would surround the factory and protect it with their and their families' lives. They have sent the precise position of the factories both to NATO and media and a note saying that at least 1,000 people will always be in or around the factory, so if they want to bomb they will have to get ready to kill some people too.

What military objects are these? What is this going to do for world peace?

Sunday, March 28

I am ashamed of the things members of "my people" did to Albanians in Kosovo and Muslims in Bosnia and for that reason I am doing everything I can to help misfortuned and terrorized people now. But I also know that it is not the whole nation who did it and that we have to go past this hate and blame and to put all of our efforts in trying to live together again. That is why this bombing hurts so much!

I strongly believe that this bombing has started something that can never be repaired. I seriously doubt that after this we will ever be able to live peacefully and in love in this one country. I also believe (and have witnessed) that we have grown a hostility toward many more nations now and that Europe is never again going to be a friendly place. In times like these, I thank God for giving me so many great friends in the U.S. because I fear that I would have fallen in this "hate and everybody is an enemy" ordeal myself. People in the U.S. do not see it, but this is destroying any chance we ever had of working things out peacefully! This is destroying any chance for us [young and educated people] to get our say and to peacefully pull Milosevic off the scene. Now we will be [labeled] traitors of the country. He has emerged way stronger and he has now became a symbol of our dignity, strength and freedom.

I just wish more Americans could see the difference between "us" and "him"!

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From a Yugoslav in Belgrade who has been writing to Salon correspondent Jeff Stein.

I know you are a journalist. If you are for peace you can stop the killing of many people, including yours. For example: NATO is bombing Pristina heavily tonight. They have been bombing from the beginning but not like tonight. At the same time on CNN they are pushing news about large numbers of refugees. It is not truth. People are running but not from Serbians. They are running from your bombing. They are running from Albanian terrorists who are forcing them to take guns and fight even if they don't want. At the same time some of the Albanian leaders are in Switzerland and Germany. They take money from narcotics and leave Kosovo.

If you as a journalist give a chance to tell the other side (Serbs), then you have a chance to save your soldiers too. With this false news of refugees they are preparing the ground and making excuses to enter with NATO troops in Kosovo. Do you have enough bags for all of them? Do you have more planes? As we were talking, you lost two more planes over Kosovo. Today you lost one in Bjeljina. NATO says you lost only one. If they are lying how can you trust them regarding the complete situation in Kosovo?

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From Andrei, a resident of Belgrade writing regularly to friends in the United States.

Sunday, March 28

You don't know a thing about situation in Belgrade. I am trapped inside my own house, alerts are on for more than two-thirds of a day and even when they are not on I am afraid to go out and risk meeting some friendly MPs that would be glad to give me a first class ride to Kosovo if they caught me. That leaves me at my own house, I am even afraid to answer a door bell, because of the friendly gentlemen that walk around in uniforms and give free tickets To Kosovo. And you get a "completely free" uniform and a gun to go with that ticket. That is an offer even you couldn't refuse. What else can I do except check my mail every half an hour and eat?

Only thing that is lifting my morale is that we have our own modern tech miracle -- like you have your stealth plane. Our tech miracle is a guy called Avram Izrael. He is the main guy in the civil protection service. He has the pleasure of telling us two messages at least four time a day: "Alert, alert, NATO air forces are above Belgrade air space, please don't panic and go to your shelters calmly and quietly." The second is, "Alert, alert the threat of bombing has now stopped. Please return to your homes calmly and quietly." Honestly the guy is on TV every two hours informing citizens and his shift started two days before bombing. That means that the guy has not slept for some seven days. The theory is that since he can't be human he is a robot -- a first Serb robot that looks like a human -- real technology miracle. Admit it that even you don't have that kind of technological miracle. Now that you know about it you should surrender!!! :-)))))

The longer this is going on more I am thinking about getting away from this country. I cant do that until things calm down since the borders are closed down for all men aged from 18-65. I am thinking about getting away after things calm down and not returning. Things will only get worse when this thing stops, it doesn't matter how it ends.

From dark and depressing Belgrade,

Your friend


Monday, March 29

I finally got some sleep. I slept through the two air attack alerts and in the end I was finally woken up by my mother after seven hours of sleep. She is working in the state government and they have to work, even if the country is in the war. That means that she has to stay here and even if she didn't have to stay, I don't think that she would leave. So we will both stay here. I am becoming very emotionally tired and depressed from all these things that are happening. If I watch the news I get even more irritated but if I don't watch the news I feel completely helpless and locked out of the world. I don't know which of the two is worst. I will probably go with watching the news and getting irritated. It feels better than isolation.

I feel bad cause all I talk about is my problems. Sorry if I sound boring.


By Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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