Balkan War Reports
Dear CTHEORY readers,
We have received numerous responses to Fast War/Slow Motion,
focussing on NATO'S bombing in Yugoslavia and the intensified ethnic cleansing
in Kosovo. In the interests of encouraging a dialogue among CTHEORY readers
beyond the two fundamentalisms of Serbian nationalism and NATO cruise-ism, we
are publishing the following two accounts of the war, one from Amsterdam, the
other from Belgrade.
Meanwhile, the war turns in the direction of three orders of cynicism:
fashion cynicism in the streets of Paris with the recent upsurge of interest in
"Balkan peasant chic;" specular cynicism on the part of NATO with its
special-effects burning of Belgrade beautifully visually framed by the night
sky, and all this carefully staged for the opening of the next day's CNN news
cycle; and political cynicism on the part of Milosevic who has already won the
first stage of the war in Kosovo, colonized public opinion in Yugoslavia around
the dictates of Serbian nationalism, and now is restless to begin settling
accounts with Montenegro. For the Kosovo Albanians, then, three orders of
victimization: by fashion, by NATO, and by ethnic nationalism. Today, the
indeterminacy and commutability of the pure sign of evil stalks the world-city.
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker
P.S. This just in from the vid-stream. Speaking from the silence of the dead
in Kosovo, Milosevic offers a unilateral cease-fire. The White House is
flustered, but you can just catch in what's not being said by its spokesman that
a political deal could be in the air. Of course, nothing about crimes against
humanity, nothing about war criminals staying in power for another day and
another game, and certainly nothing about all those Kosovo refugees forced,
often at gunpoint, to internment camps in Guantanamo Bay and Guam and Germany
and Turkey. Refugee relief? or a new style of disappearing embarrassing
political images? Two styles of ethnic cleansing: one grounded, one airlifted.
I am your passionate reader and I would like to contribute as much as I can
to understanding the Kosovo problem. Therefore, I'm sending you this Letter From
Amsterdam, hoping that you will publish it.
Marko Popovic from Belgrade
A Bridge Too Far
The Petrovaradin bridge was destroyed this morning at 5 am. My wife
woke me up with the news she just heard on BBC radio. I thought it was the newer
railway/highway bridge but when I finally succeeded in phoning Novi Sad in the
evening, I heard it was the old metal bridge connecting the center with
Petrovaradin and the old fortress above, on the other side of Danube. Why that
bridge? It was built in haste in the winter of 1944-45 by the German POWs under
the supervision of the Red Army engineers and a railway line was added to renew
the connection with Belgrade, 80 km south. So in my childhood, with each train
passing, the ramp would go down and the traffic would pile up on both sides. It
wasn't that much traffic. I remember the uneasiness I felt every time crossing
the bridge even in daytime: the wooden planks of the side board got loose and
rotten and one could see the water underneath. I feared I'd step into the void
and even sink into the Danube, little as I was. In the early sixties, a new
bridge was built 2 km down the river and the railway track was displaced too.
The old bridge got a face-lift and served all these years as a busy connection,
a way to enter straight into the center of Novi Sad from the Srem side. In the
years before I had a driver's license I would often cross it often on foot to
see the sunset, or stroll to the fortress, or visit some of the inns on the
Petrovaradin side alive with wild Gypsy music. I would then return in the early
morning hours, admiring the dawn above the city.
Ugly as it was, this bridge was part of my childhood and adolescence.
The consequence of the bombing is that windows are broken in that part of town
and there is no running water around, even the large hospital on the nearby
hills of Fruska Gora, with some 900 beds, is without water. This is not making
the awful lot of Kosovo Albanians easier. It is not prompting the brave Novi Sad
citizens to begin an uprising against Milosevic. Of course not, Milosevic is
stronger than ever and as popular as he was in 1988-89. Moreover, many decent
Serbs will hate NATO, Western Europe and the USA for the next 50 years. The
self-destructive, obsessive ideology of Serbian nationalism has been fed richly
by this past week's attacks and has seen all of its favorite myths reinforced
with new arguments and examples. If only NATO had bombed Milosevic's fleet in
the Adriatic in September 1991 when it started pounding Dubrovnik, well before
Vukovar and the horrors of Bosnia & Herzegovina, the ongoing Balkan war
could have been stopped at an early stage. If only a fraction of 1% of what NATO
is now spending in this campaign had been spent instead to support the emerging
forces of the civil society and the independent media Serbia would have a
Military escalation will not halt the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo nor
speed up the return of the refugees. This senseless violence should stop at
once. The politicians and generals have committed great errors in judgment. They
should halt further bombings and step aside for a while. How about a conference
with 50 Balkan scholars from Western and Eastern Europe getting together and
using their collective knowledge to envisage some sort of future without war and
terror, to restart a dialogue. In the meantime, politicians can vote budgets for
the humanitarian aid much needed in the region and entrust the generals to
implement it. We know how good they can be at it.
Dr D Klaic is Professor at the University of Amsterdam and the Director of
the Theater Instituut Nederland.
Dear CTHEORY editors,
After following for a whole day media reports on events in Yugoslavia
happening at the moment, here is one more opinion seen from another point of
view, this time architectural.
Today, we received this letter from a friend in Belgrade.
Ana Dzokic and Marc Neelen
Architectural Guide to the Ruins of Belgrade
Belgrade, April 3rd 1999
Ah, what a glorious victory, what a major hit!
The NATO bombers destroyed last night two empty administration
buildings in downtown Belgrade. Besides threatening the nearby complex of
hospitals, notably the Institute of gynaecology in which several babies were
being born at the moment, they achieved virtually nothing. It took no more than
an idiot to know that after days of threats, no people and no equipment would
wait for the bombs inside these buildings. The Pentagon cynically says that the
aim of this attack was to frighten the Serbs, but psychologically this
destruction only increased the local population's anger and resolution to
resist, broadening the gap that will have to be spanned once the war is over.
However, certain damage is achieved and it belongs to the field of
culture, something that speaks, to use a euphemism, extremely unfavourably of
the NATO's intentions. Both destroyed buildings were important pieces of
architecture. The older one, the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs, was
erected immediately after WWII by Branko Petricic, previously Le Corbusier's
collaborator, and represented one of the rare examples of Socialist Realist
architecture in Yugoslavia. Now, someone may say, why would anybody cry over a
building of such a "notorious" style? The reason lies primarily in its
historical value: the very fact that it existed as one of few such examples
clearly testified about an early rejection of Stalinism both in Yugoslav
politics and culture. The other destroyed building was also very important. It
was built at the end of the 70s by Ivan Antic, one of Yugoslavia's best post-war
architects, and it completed a long strip of state administration buildings and
embassies along Kneza Milosa Street, making a soft transition to the surrounding
landscape. Thanks to its prominent position, the building acted as a gate to the
centre of the city and was, therefore, an important landmark.
Cynics would say that neither of these two buildings belongs to the
first-class architecture of Belgrade, but what follows, most probably as soon as
tonight, will correct this fault. Other major state administration buildings
have also been threatened in the last few days. Again, when attacked, they will
probably be empty, but the cultural damage will be much greater. Any of the
Ministries along Nemanjina Street can be ranked as a precious piece of
architecture, and so can the Federal Government building in New Belgrade, one of
the most beautiful examples of the International style in Yugoslavia. But the
greatest value is, conveniently, at the greatest risk. It is almost surprising
that the Ministry of Defence, a strategically completely harmless building,
especially in this situation, has not been already bombed. Designed in the 50s
by internationally renowned Nikola Dobrovic, the mythical figure of Serbian
architecture and Honorary Member of the Royal Institute of British Architects,
the building represents his last and his most important work and the only work
he built in Belgrade. The Ministry of Defence means to the Serbian architecture
what the Villa Savoy means to the French or, say, the Guggenheim to the
American. To destroy it, and this is bound to happen in just a few hours, would
mean an irreparable damage not only to the local, but to the international
cultural heritage, regardless of what those who command its destruction say.
After damaging the ancient monasteries of Gracanica (UNESCO-protected)
and Rakovica, destroying a strategically unimportant bridge in Novi Sad and the
two buildings in downtown Belgrade, and after threatening other important works
of art, it seems that Bill Clinton, who reportedly personally signed the order
for last night's attacks, and NATO commanders have excellent tastes in
architecture. So, what could be the next move? Take some hints from a humble
professional: if you like Ivan Antic's oeuvre, then the Museum of Modern Art in
New Belgrade is a must - you would destroy not only a masterpiece of modern
architecture, but also a major collection of modern art. The Children's Clinic
by Milan Zlokovic would also be good to attack: you could destroy not only the
building that marked a turning point in Serbian Modernism, but also kill
hundreds of ill kids. Why not consider the National Library by Ivo Kurtovic?
When Germans burnt down the old library in 1941, only 500 000 books were lost -
now the result would be much, much greater. Something more traditional? Take
Princess Ljubica's Court - besides being so lovely, it is practically built into
the densely populated heart of the city. There would be, oh, so many casualties
and imagine how frightening it would be for the Serbs!
Until ten days ago, I was writing with my colleagues a guide to the
architecture of Belgrade. It seems that in a couple of days we will have to
shift our work to a guide to the ruins of Belgrade.
As I finish this letter, the sirens start to blow. Pray for us.
Vladimir Kulic, architect
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