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<nettime> Report from Belgrade
Slobodan Markovic on Wed, 21 Apr 1999 12:01:50 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Report from Belgrade


    What follows now is one report which is not written by me, but I
    can confirm its full validity. It was sent to me by a frend who 
    lives in New Zeland (he found it on one web site). It's a story 
    about everyday life in Belgrade.

    Greetings,

            Slobodan Markovic   | http://solair.eunet.yu/~twiddle
            Internodium Project | http://www.internodium.org.yu

===========================================================================

A Slice of Life in Wartime Serb Capital

BELGRADE, Apr. 20 - For a city that's been under aerial attack for four
weeks now by the world's most powerful military alliance, life in Belgrade
seems surprisingly normal these days.  During daylight hours, streets are
full of people.  Traffic is lighter than before, due to gasoline rationing,
but there are still occasional traffic jams.

Taxi drivers are allotted 150 liters (about 35 gallons) of gasoline per
month.  "That's enough for me to eke out a living," one cabbie said, "but
not enough to pay the taxes."

"Maybe they'll defer or forgive the taxes in wartime economy?" I suggested.

"That'll be the day," the driver replied skeptically.

The stores are also full.  You can buy just about anything - from imports,
to locally produced goods.  Long gone are the days of the U.N. sanctions
which emptied the store shelves and peoples' tummies in 1993-1994.

In fact, the Serb defiance has also been complemented by bustling
entrepreneurship.  There are hundreds of street vendors selling newly
produced TARGET or other anti-NATO T-shirts, buttons, records or other
graphical designs.

Daily concerts at the Freedom Square in downtown Belgrade are continuing.
They usually start at noon and last till 4PM.  Yesterday (Sunday), a group
of young dancers, all girls - probably under the age of 10 - delighted the
crowd to the tune of rock music. But Las Vegas recruiters had better not
rush to sign them up. For, these young stars' performance was a part of the
protest against, not compliance with, the glitzy part of the "American
culture."

One thing this writer noticed, however, was that some people in the crowd
at the Freedom Square carried photos of Slobodan Milosevic.  To foreigners
who have not spoken to as many Serbs as this writer has during the last
five days, this might have implied that the Serbian people are defying NATO
in support of their "Saddam."

Nothing could be further from the truth.  After all, just over two years
ago, hundreds of thousands of these same people demonstrated for democracy
and against Milosevic for over three months - in the dead of winter!  Most
Serbs I spoke to expressed their outrage that a few Socialist Party members
have brought to the protests pictures of their leader, at a time when all
other parties had set aside their ideological differences for the sake of
national defense.

And the peoples' message seems to be getting through. When this writer
spent some time at the Freedom Square today, shortly after noon, there were
no Milosevic photos in sight; only Serb flags and other national symbols.

So is there anything abnormal about life in the Serb capital, besides the
nightly explosions and AAA fire? Plenty...

Schools and universities are closed. They have been closed since the war
started on Mar. 24. There is some talk now about opening the universities
later this week. But elementary, junior high, and high schools will remain
closed for the rest of the school year.

The reasons are obvious.  NATO has already hit (however inadvertently, if
one is to believe their spokespeople) dozens of schools across Serbia.  Had
there been children and teachers in them, the casualties would have been
much higher than they are.

Another anomaly is that the stores are told by the authorities to close at
4PM. Most seem to heed that suggestion. But private convenience stores
stay open till all hours of the night, just like back home in the States;
some even right through air raids.  Last night, for example, this writer
bought a piece of bread and a sausage at a convenience store near Brankov's
bridge at close to 10PM.

There are also long lines at some points in downtown Belgrade, but they are
not what you think if you listened to some of the western media reports. I
was told (I have not seen or heard it myself), that the western media have
shown pictures of these long lines with commentaries suggesting that these
people are now having to line up for their daily bread.

When I first saw one of these long lines which snaked around a little park
in front of Radio Belgrade building for several hundred yards, I asked a
colleague, a local journalist, what this was about.

"Cigarettes," he replied.

"You're putting me on."

"No, I'm not."

I still wasn't buying his explanation.  So I walked up to some of the
people in the line and asked them: "What are you lining up for?"

"For cigarettes," one woman replied.

"And all these people (hundreds of them!) are smokers waiting to get their
daily fix?", I said, with an obvious look of incredulity on my face.

The woman returned a look full of disdain, implying silently: "It's easy
for you to make fun of us when you're obviously not a smoker."

Turning to my journalist-friend, I said: "Hurray!  NATO is finally doing
something beneficial for Serbian people. Forcing the nation to cut back,
or give up, smoking!"

There is another good thing that NATO's bombing has also done. It has
weaned the Serbs off the American junk food. Both McDonald's restaurants
in downtown Belgrade are closed, with anti-NATO graffiti sprayed all over
them. Yet the McDonald's management posted some lame message about how it
was supposedly closing down the restaurants in solidarity with its Yugoslav
customers.

A walk up and down Belgrade's main streets and avenues also reveals that
most NATO embassies have been trashed, with graffiti, often vulgar,
testifying as to extreme anger of the local population. The German
embassy, for example, has the German flag still flying on a mast above the
door. But the flag has a NATO crest-shaped swastika in the middle.

Perhaps the worst for wear is the Canadian embassy. The newest among the
western embassies, it has a modern design. It also used to have a lot of
windows.

The American and French cultural centers in downtown Belgrade have also
been demolished. By contrast, however, embassies of other western
countries not involved in the conflict are intact. This morning, for
example, this writer walked passed the Australian and Argentinean
embassies, which are a stone throw away from the destroyed American and
French cultural centers. Both embassies were intact, with ambassadors
still on board.

(this writer has taken many photos which we will post to the Web site as
soon as they are developed).

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