Having not been to Belgrade before I was completely surprised when I turn the corner and spotted the NATO ruins of Belgrade right in front of me.
There has been a lot of changes since the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999. The ruins of that horrific conflict still stand as a reminder here in the center of the Serbian capital.
It’s not easy to imagine wandering by bombed-out ruins beside an otherwise modern, upgraded, and contemporary cityscape. This is something you find more often in the Middle East, not here in a European city.
During the 90s the breakup of Yugoslavia led to a war between Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovenia. The war broke out in 1999 with Serbia as the lead aggressor in the conflict. The rest of the countries had broken away from one another and claimed their independence.
At the time only Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro remained part of the Yugoslavia Federation. When Kosovo decided to leave and claim their own independence is when war broke out again even worse than before.
With so many atrocities taking place across the region NATO had to step in and force the Serbian army to step down. The Serbian government declined the initial ceasefire.
This resulted in Belgrade and other key targets in Serbia being bombarded by American and NATO forces for more than a month straight. Unfortunately, it was the civilians that had to deal with the brunt of the suffering after the bombing finished.
Over the next 78 days the city was bombed on a daily basis. More than 500 people were killed across Serbia during the bombing raids with the majority of these people being normal civilians.
The bombing started on March 24th, 1999 with the aim to end the war and atrocities taking place in Kosovo. Bombing lasted until June 10th, 1999 having only been expected to run for a few days. The Serbians decided not to give into the Western and NATO demands so they resisted the bombing as long as possible
It doesn’t matter which side of the NATO bombing debate you’re on, it’s never right to drop bombs on civilian areas.
The damage from the bombing is still evident here at the main NATO bombing ruins and at other bombing sites throughout the city.
Down the street from the main train station in Belgrade is where you’ll find the largest and best preserved bombing ruins at the Ministry of Defence buildings. These buildings were an important target and a focus point of the NATO bombing runs.
Despite taking more than a handful of direct hits the Ministry of Defence was still standing after the war. Rather than take some down the city has left the ruins up as a reminder of atrocities that occurred in the past. Today, the ruins seem like an open-air museum in the heart of a busy and bustling city.
Surprisingly, there are still soldiers patrolling the exterior of the buildings. I’m not sure why additional security is needed here but the local government continues to find it necessary to have a security presence in the area.
There were a number of other buildings damaged or destroyed from the NATO bombing runs. Bridges, train stations, manufacturing plants, and industrial areas were the main targets during the war but sometimes mistakes happened and bombs missed their targets.
For example, the Chinese Embassy took a direct hit during the conflict. Many residential homes and local stores were destroyed “by accident” as well.
It’s hard to neutrally discuss the conflict in Serbia as well as the regional conflicts that still play out in the Balkans. It’s an emotionally charged topic with passionate people coming from every side to share their experiences, thoughts, and ideas.
As we’re coming up on 20 years since the war in Yugoslavia it’s safe to say that things have improved in Belgrade and for Serbia as a whole. The city itself is a lively and energized capital that’s fast becoming a dominant player in Eastern Europe. It’s going to be exciting to see where Serbia, and Belgrade, end up in the future as they continue to progress.
If you haven’t already, consider visiting and spending a day or two taking advantage of all of the best things to do in Belgrade!
Where are the NATO Bombing Ruins in Belgrade?
The ruins are in a central location and easy to find if you’re exploring on foot.
Before arriving it’s a good idea to use Google Maps to find the ruins. This way you’ll know exactly where they are and how to get to them once you’re in Belgrade.
The NATO ruins are a 10-minute walk from the main train station. From the historic downtown area it should take you between 20-30 minutes to walk.
Down the street is Saint Marks Church so you can check that out if you’ll be in the neighborhood.
Not too far away is Brooklyn Pizza. I mentioned this pizzeria in my article on the best pizza in Belgrade. This is a great spot to stop for a quick lunch or dinner!