I am writing these lines at the dawn of 24 March 2003, on the very day when the NATO, four years ago, started the destruction of my country, which in the meantime has lost even its name. I ask my profession for forgiveness if in this text emotions, even traumas, should give it more a character of a confession than a critical and analytical review. However, even though various feelings overwhelm me, I will not do injustice to facts or to logic resulting from these facts. It is not only a memory of commemorative character, but another kind of nightmare, an everlasting trauma, pain, insufferable grief. And while I watch the destruction of Baghdad by the Americans on the screen, it seems to me that each missile hits Belgrade, Serbia, destroying the bridges over the Danube, the Ibar, the Morava, striking schools, hospitals, churches.
As if once again I was suffocating from the smoke in the demolished basement of the devastated building of the Television of Serbia, as if I heard the screams of my colleagues that night and saw their bewildered eyes. The pictures of terror, chaos, catastrophe, death come alive. Between the floors of the destroyed building the body of a helpless man hangs upside down, quivering, while doctors on firemen’s ladders try to save his life. As if now, in my mind’s eye, I saw parts of the bodies of the killed on the roof of St. Marco’s church. As if I saw before me the images of the victims. I hear the cries for help, weeping, sobbing, screams. It seems to me that I am committing a sin when trying to push back such memories and feelings, when trying to calmly, collectedly and very rationally make an inventory of those tragic things. It seems to me that it would also be a kind of indifference no one is entitled to. I cannot agree to that, no matter how much the present government insist on ignoring this said anniversary.
On 24 March, not a single newspaper even mentioned on the front page that event, that is tragic not only for this country and its people, but also a tragic proclamation that the planet and the human civilization will be governed by the most brutal power, the one serving American interests. And all in the guise of human rights, freedom, democracy, humanness. What absurdity, what hypocrisy, what cynicism, what lies! And the Serbs as victims of the NATO bombing, as to date the greatest victims of American hegemony policy, they are forced to forget their tragedy! And not only forget it, but forgive and justify it as well! They can still, quite conventionally, almost discreetly and rather superficially mention it in the last minutes of news programs and back pages of the newspapers. Almost all the media in Serbia devoted more attention and time and space to the American Academy Awards, to winning Oscars, than to the anniversary of the beginning of the NATO bombing of our country! What is killed in that manner and how the bombing of this people is continued by other means – that is hopefully clear to every man capable of though at the level of an average teenager!
How many thousands of victims, how many thousands of missiles, how many thousands of kilos of explosive, how many cluster bombs, how many depleted uranium bombs, were used on Serbia? How many tens of bridges were destroyed, how many thousands of people are there with post-traumatic consequences? How many deformed children will be born, not only in Serbia, but in the whole of Europe as well? When the NATO protectors of Albanian terrorism came to Kosovo and Metohija, almost all of the Serbs were exiled, tens of thousands of their homes were burned down, hundreds of their churches and monasteries were destroyed. During almost four years of absolute domination of the NATO forces in Kosovo and Metohija, the alleged guarantor of the safety for the return to their homes, not even one percent of the exiled Serbs could go back to their homes! With all those wonders, all those terrible crimes in accordance with the American script, only one man was charged and sentenced! Only one!
The law of Hamurabi, ancient Roman laws, all the codes and legal systems of all countries must feel humiliation before this fact. So many killed, so many crimes of all kinds – and only one man sentenced!? How will the Minister of Justice in Serbian government find a logical, even in a most formal semblance of logic, answer that makes even a ghost of justice? This legal absurd, this corruption of law can take its place in any anthology of meaninglessness and humiliation of law. How is it possible – so many crimes, so many victims, and only one man guilty?
Let us see who that wonder man is, what his crime is, and what justifies the verdict and the sentence of the District Court in Belgrade.
The only one guilty for all the NATO crimes is Dragoljub Milanovic. He was a general manager of the Radio Television of Serbia. He held the same position at the time of the NATO bombing of the FR Yugoslavia. All the 78 days of aggression against our country he stayed in the RTS building until after midnight.
In the night between 22 and 23 April 1999 I was the chief editor on duty in the News Department of the RTS. That fact gives me not only the right, but also the duty of the highest moral order to say what happened and how it happened. One newspaper story is too short for such a delicate story, for such a monstrous crime, for such a big tragedy. I am saving all this for the book I am writing, and which will hopefully explain through arguments what happened in the night the television building was bombed, what had happened before, and what was to happen after.
In the night when the building was hit, manager Milanovic asked me, as the chief editor on duty, and in connection with the statement from Moscow regarding the talks Milosevic – Chernomyrdin, which were on the previous day (22 April 1999) in Belgrade. It was about 1 o’clock after midnight, or a couple of minutes to 1. Bearing in mind that the translation of the text was rather confusing, I saw right away that this important news would not be ready for the news program at 1 o’clock. After checking the translation and some stylistic interventions, I went out of Mr. Milanovic’s office. The time was about ten minutes past one. Milanovic stayed in his office with a man I did not know. The said news I prepared for the news program at 2 o’clock. My last editor’s action of that tragic night was to advise the news presenter Slobodan Kovacevic to read the said statement very clearly, since there were some linguistic adjustments in the translation.
Some time before 2 o’clock after midnight I was sitting in the office of the Culture Department, where I had spent twenty-five years as a journalist. There were Ljuba Vucicevic, in charge that night for the correspondents’ network, my colleague from the culture department, Dragan Srdanovic, and the secretary, Maja Andjelkovic. At 5 or 6 minutes after 2 – it struck! The building shook, we fell. There are moments in a great drama that the rational powers in man withdraw, and some miraculous instinct for self-preservation takes lead. I was trying to keep calm, collected, aware. I wanted to extend it to the others as well. I was afraid that panic would overwhelm me, the panic there were so many reasons for. All the stumbling, falling, running into the walls of the building basement, did not cause any pain, since, it seems to me, the organism in some wonderful way – was auto-anesthetized! Many things in those terrible events, not even four years later, cannot be explained, as if they were untranslatable to the language of logic.
It is not important now for this text. No less strange, irrational things happened even after that, and following the end of the NATO aggression against the FR Yugoslavia. There is rumor, even claims that it was known that the TV building would be bombed, and that we were, for propaganda goals, similar to those of Muslims in Sarajevo, to be sacrificed. I could not believe it. Such madness, such moral crime – no normal man could do it. However, those dilemmas, their final solutions, discovering the political layers of the whole case, both in the country and abroad – let us save it for the book.
Milanovic was in the top part of the ruling Socialist party of Serbia (SPS), the man of great, even greatest trust of the government and President Milosevic. They cannot have wanted to sacrifice him! He was in the building about half an hour before the bombing. General Wesley Clark or Xavier Solana cannot have called him on the mobile phone to tell him to go out, because their Merciful Angel was on the way to visit the RTS building! There were many enough assurances from various international institutions, even from Brussels itself, that the RTS building would not be targeted. Even the International Association of Journalists assured us of it! Our facilities were, for the reasons of safety, located on three different sites, outside Belgrade, and several of them in the basements and garages in the vicinity of the TV building. We had to be near the main building due to technical reasons, and the other building with similar facilities was located in such a manner hat it really represented an easy target for the NATO missiles. In the close vicinity of the main building in Aberdareva street there is General Post Office, National Bank of Yugoslavia, Russian church, St. Marco’s church, children’s theatre “Dusko Radovic”, Fifth Belgrade Highschool, and many residential buildings. We believed that the “Merciful Angel” would not target them. However, the RAF Harrier plane, with the necessary laser and other support from the ground, found the way to place his “smart missile” among us.
By means of the new regime in Serbia, on 5 October 2000, many things take on different shapes, which is quite understandable when it comes to politics. The symbol of the coming of the new policy was setting fire to the Federal Assembly building and the RTS building. At that time the documents of priceless value burned. The film history of a nation, collected there for almost half a century. Plentiful evidence of the NATO crimes were burned down, the film records on all the crimes, especially terrorist crimes, in Kosovo and Metohija, film documents on the war in Croatia and Bosnia. Several thousand cassettes where similar materials were kept were also burned to ashes. No one was ever charged for that, let alone convicted! The attitude towards the NATO also underwent some changes. Those in that military alliance most responsible for the bombing campaign against FR Yugoslavia are all of a sudden treated as friends, and the previous, even formal court sentences, were annuled and they were therefore absolved of all guilt. This was carried out by the Supreme Court of Serbia, of course by the orders of the new regime. They were absolved and promoted to friends, and the trial of Dragoljub Milanovic started, with the argument that he was responsible for the death of 16 employees of the RTS Television Belgrade, who had died in the bombing campaign of the NATO alliance. The hunt against journalist who were in the building that night started. The newly appointed manager of the RTS, Nenad Ristic, on the second anniversary of that tragic event, passed a judgement on us journalists – for having survived that awful night. He, with evident bitterness, in the live broadcast, yelled (I quote): “And the journalist, editors and propagators were not killed!” To the people who wondered at such a monstrous attitude towards the former colleagues, I “explained” that in that way Nenad Ristic was criticizing the NATO alliance – for inefficiency! By the way, Nenad Ristic spent all his working life (over thirty years) in high positions on that same television! He was an editor of this and that, a party chief known by frequently reporting fellow journalists to the police and party committees! Almost all of the journalist who were in the building on that tragic night, lost their right to work! I myself was told that I was “vocally and visually – undesirable”! After 28 years of working in that unfortunate Television, with all the highest domestic awards and prizes for my professional activities, I was left without means!
In such an atmosphere, what could have been expected in the court trial of Dragoljub Milanovic? As a witness, I did not want to take the side of defense nor the side of prosecution. I just wanted to contribute to the objective insight into the whole event. It was not my fault that the facts were on Milanovic’s side. I was not his friend, we just had a professional relationship. However, the Court Council interrupted me in my testifying when I announced that I was just about to shed light on some facts important for reviewing the whole event. It was clear to me immediately that the verdict had already been passed, and that the entire trial was just sheer formality, and a disguise for a political verdict. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, and that based on the non-existing document, a draft of the internal decision that was not signed nor stamped, without any legal effect. The known perpetrator of the crime was absolved, made a friend, and the one who objectively could not have done anything for our safety was convicted. Simply, the victim was convicted as a criminal, and the true criminal was promoted into a true merciful angel.
The convicted Milanovic did not report to the penitentiary to serve his sentence. It is not known where he is. It is clear that running away from justice is a new criminal act and it is clear that it is present in the penal codes of all countries. Formally and legally, Milanovic escaped justice, the court sentence. I do not know whether some legal expert in some legal manner can explain – running away from injustice?! Judging by the most common human sense of justice, Milanovic suffered great injustice. If I though that he was guilty, I myself would be the first to blame him for the great and consequential traumas of that night! Unless somebody convinces me that it is my fault for having survived! And such attempts, what absurdity, have already taken place! However, it is but one element in the delicate, and in good part irrational, reality in my country, which has found itself in the position of an American protectorate of the most humble kind. And, while I am trying to complete this text somehow, overwhelmed by dark thoughts and many associations, I hear on the radio that the Americans bombed the Iraqi television building in Baghdad! Like in some kind of a novel! It seems, when we think of what is happening to us, and especially what is yet to happen, that Orwell was a great – optimist.
Only now did I remember – Hans Frisch, Geobels’ deputy in Hitler’s ministry of propaganda, was found not guilty at the International Court in Nuremberg in 1946, with the explanation that he could not significantly influence the course of war! He was not guilty, and Dragoljub Milanovic is convicted! Goodbye, reason!
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