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Eyewitness account after NATO bombing - 21 February 2000

From the website of Anglo-Yugoslav Medical Aid -

Extracts from: Eyewitness account of Yugoslavia after NATO bombardment: "People are preoccupied with day-to-day survival"

By Keith Lee

21 February 2000

Pavel Popovic works as a courier in central London. He went back to Yugoslavia in August for a month and a half to visit his relatives. The World Socialist Web Site interviewed him on the situation facing the Serbian people in the aftermath of the US-led NATO bombardment.

Q : What is the extent of the destruction of Serbia's infrastructure by NATO bombs and missiles ?

A : It was very obvious. There was a lot of damage, because even NATO admitted that within two or three days they had run out of military targets. In order to inflict maximum destruction and force the government to surrender they had to go for non-military targets - hospitals, schools, railways and motorways. There could have been military personnel hiding in these buildings, but most often it wasn't the case.

I was very shocked on the news here in England to see my own village bombed. I lived there for 18 years before I went to study in Belgrade. There was never, ever any military infrastructure there. At first I thought there's something wrong, there's nothing there, it's just a mistake. But when I went back home and talked to people they showed me the extent of the destruction. A few houses, a big crater in the ground and the majority of the bridges. These were never used by the military because they were already in Kosovo before the bombing started. NATO said it was to cut the supply routes, but it was really a justification to ruin the country and inflict so much damage that the civilian population would rebel against the Yugoslav government.

Q: The largest facility to be hit was the Zastava car plant. One report says 6,000 workers lost their job as a result. What support do the unemployed and their families receive ?

A: First of all, I believe it was about 30,000 people, maybe even higher. The support from the government is an absolute minimum. Most of the people have to fend for themselves, but because they still have their roots in the villages they can grow things. That's how people in the towns survive this kind of hardship. They help each other. But there are 1 million refugees and the economy is shattered, so I doubt if they are getting anything much.

Q: What was the scale of damage to industry ?

A: I saw several of the smaller plants hit and some other buildings like hotels. I'm not sure if they were being used by the military, but as I said before lots of things went wrong with the war intelligence, mismanagement of information...I saw a lot of destruction in Belgrade. Some buildings were connected to the government and military, but many weren't. There was difficulty travelling because of the destroyed bridges.

Q: How has the bombing affected everyday life ?

A: Food is difficult to distribute and it will become worse. The harvest will be affected by the lack of machinery and petrol. The plants producing spare parts for tractors and lorries were destroyed. The water systems were bombed and also the heating plant in Belgrade. As for electricity, the graphite bombs did not cause much damage, so NATO started using the real things. Now it is in short supply. Quite a few schools were bombed because NATO suspected or wanted to suspect the military were hiding in them.

Q : What effect is the trade embargo imposed on Yugoslavia having ?

A: I would say it's having a major effect, especially on health. Yugoslavia needs a lot of chemicals and medicines, which we always imported. A neighbour of mine, a man I grew up with, died as a result of not having proper medication after an accident. He had internal bleeding and died after three or four weeks. As a result of the bleeding, he had an infection and they couldn't control it.

I think the consequences of the sanctions might even exceed the war in numbers of deaths. Also the poisoning of the environment and water systems could mean the death toll will be significantly higher.

Q: Did you see much evidence of refugees ?

A: I saw a good number of refugees in empty hotelsnow that tourism has collapsed almost in every town. You notice the refugees just by their faces, they usually go around in groups. They're not really present. They are miles away, as if they are in a trance. They look different, they look shattered, they look sad, they look distraught, destroyed. I've seen quite a few in Belgrade, but in a capital they seem almost swallowed up, assimilated somehow, even if it's temporary. In smaller towns it's more obvious.

Q: What was NATO's response to these refugees ?

A: NATO knew they were going to produce a good number of refugees, but that was not important to them. As we know, the Western media scarcely reported the stream of refugees, mainly Serbs and some Gypsies, coming from Kosovo. Maybe 50,000 fled during the conflict and possibly another 200,000 left after NATO went in there. So NATO was not concerned about refugees at all.

Q: Is there a difference between how the top and bottom of society are able to get goods ? What about the black market ?

A: Obviously, the well-off people find the necessary channels. They travel to Greece, Italy and Hungary and get quite a few things, even luxury goods. The black market has sprung up quite quickly. This is a way of keeping the economy going and quite a lot of people are getting a lot of cash, mainly the underworld. The crooks dominate. It's the only thing that's flourishing.

Q: Regarding minorities in Yugoslavia, what is the situation now ?

A: There are as many as before. There are about 100,000 Albanians living in Belgrade, but I've not heard of any disturbances or harassment. I think there were a few cases of people trying to organise sabotage and explosions, but it soon stopped. All the different groups just seem to get on with their lives. They are affected whether they are Serb or otherwise, and their main concern is the daily struggle for survival.

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

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