In 1999 at the height of the Yugoslav wars the Serbian capital city of Belgrade was bombed for nearly 80 days. During this time many of the buildings throughout the city were destroyed and today only a few remain standing as a reminder of the chaos and destruction caused by the NATO allied forces.
The city was bombed for multiple reasons but the aim of NATO was to stop the Kosovo war. There were claims of ethnic cleansing going on at the hands of the Serbs and even without proper evidence or support from the UN, NATO went ahead with the bombings. They stated that they were trying to prevent any more war crimes from happening and for almost 3 months bombs fell across the entirety of the Yugoslav Republic.
Many cities such as Nis and Novi Sad experienced a lot worse in terms of destruction and deaths but it was Belgrade that felt the true wrath of NATO. It was a scary and eye-opening experience for the over 1 million citizens who simply didn’t deserve what was happening to them. To this day there are ruins from the bombings that still stand and while the city did the best they can to fix everything the buildings still remain to remind people of the viciousness that NATO and the United States were capable of.
When I was younger I remember hearing in the news about events going on in the Balkans but it wasn’t until I visited Belgrade that I was able to piece it all together. I had no idea about the history of the region or the atrocities caused by the Allied forces. While I was there I wondered how countries like the United States and Canada could bomb a developed nation such as Serbia, even without a direct link to any of the causes of the war or conflicts going on.
Seeing the destroyed and crumbling building really put it in perspective and I felt bad for the people who have to walk by everyday and be reminded of the tragedies that happened in their lives. Almost the entire population had no say in what the government or guerrilla groups did throughout the region but still had to suffer at the hands of NATO. It seems extremely unfair that while people in North America and Western Europe were sitting at home watching nightly news the people in Belgrade had to worry about their homes being destroyed or their children being killed by a bombing run.
One of the biggest problems I have with the whole thing is that it wasn’t just government or a war related buildings being bombed but homes, embassies, schools, and even bridges that regular people like You and I used on a daily basis. One of the worst instances of the bombing in Belgrade was when the Chinese embassy was hit and three people died with 20 injured. This is a perfect example of the recklessness and damage caused by the bombs. These people were in no way related to what was going on but still had to suffer. At no point were the Americans and NATO forces held responsible for their actions and until this day many people in Western society believe that Serbia and its citizens deserved what they got.
Throughout the entire Yugoslav region at least 1500 people were killed, not from fighting each other, but from bombs and other military actions taken by NATO. It was the second largest combat operation and NATO history and while the bombing did lead to Yugoslav forces leaving Kosovo the stain on Serbia will be there forever.
It says a lot about the citizens of Belgrade for lasting as long as they did. NATO claimed that the bombing wouldn’t take more than three days but the city held out for almost 3 months. It was hard to believe that this city in the Balkans resisted the entire might of the most developed countries in the world for so long. Standing in front of NATO ruins it was hard for me not to feel ashamed that my country and its government were responsible for such things.
If you’re in Belgrade you’re going to want check out the two main ruins. Each building was hit directly by a bomb and stand side-by-side not even 100 m apart. For many people who visit Belgrade these buildings are some of the first they see on the way to their hotel, as they are only a few blocks away from the train station and tourist streets. It was during the spring of 1999 that on May 7 these buildings were hit and destroyed.
The buildings represent what was once the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Defense. You can see exactly where the bombs hit and it’s almost too easy to imagine what the people there at the time must’ve felt.
There are a few ruins left but there were many other buildings that were hit. Just up the street is the building of the Serbian radio and television headquarters where 16 people were killed. On this site a new building has been erected but a portion of the remains still exist as a memorial and a constant reminder that the people in Belgrade might have forgiven but will never forget.
As a visitor to Serbia you owe it to the people living there to visit the sights, pay your respects, and learn more about the atrocities that happened here. The sight of the two buildings and the destruction caused to them is forever ingrained in my mind and I’ll be thinking about what had happened here for many years to come.