Letter from Belgrade

Women in Black, Belgrade

By S.Z., - the night of 28 March 1999

Se temaet

Yesterday it was very difficult to write: I didn't have much time, but mainly it was because of the powerful impact of listening to friends from Kosovo. At least, I managed to sleep well and I feel much better today. I will begin trying to convey briefly the atmosphere here:
All the media reports are strictly those of the military headquarters.
Since yesterday there's been euphoria for the shooting down of the ultra-sophisticated aeroplane the F-117. Everybody, in the media and in the street and in the bomb shelters (which I never go down but people tell me) celebrate this. All this can be characterised as HOMOGENIZATION / PATRIOTIC UNITY / VICTIMIZATION / UNIFORMITY...
The slogans and songs that they play without stopping are of the style "enemy forces / criminals / aggressors can cause material damage and human victims, but they cannot destroy the spirit of our people that, above all, loves liberty", they put this continually in Radio Belgrade, with anthems about "Kosovo - sacred land", with Partizan songs from the Second World War instead of advertising spots, everything leading to exacertbate nationalist and patriotic sentiment, without any appeal for calm or common sense.

Today's concert in TRG Republika
Organised by the mayor of Belgrade and Vuk Draskovic"s Movement for Serbian Renewal. We didn't go, we just didn't fancy submitting ourselves to the general confusion, but the slogans say it better than any commentary:

  • "Belgrade is prepared to struggle and win";
  • "Better war than the pact" (a slogan used by Belgrade demonstrators before the German attack in 1941 - HC),
  • "The army fights in its way, we in ours - singing",
  • "We are all one, nobody can vanquish us",
  • "They won't harm us",
  • "We won't withdraw or surrender",
  • "We will give our lives, but not surrender Kosovo",
  • "If we have to die, let us die together".
Not one word of compromise, of feeling for the suffering of all the people, regardless of their ethnic origen. For example, some singers asked for a minute's silence "for our victims". Patriotic songs together with some rock numbers, with religious chant: they often burned US flags, shouted "Serbia Serbia..."
It was impressive to see so many people in the street, but sad to hear the content and the message. They say that there will be this

kind of demonstration every day. We are afraid - me as much as anyone - of this great manipulation.

At the same time, we saw a group of people of Romany origen (gypsies) demonstrating their loyalty to the state infront of the US embasy, and ohers with the slogan "We will give our lives, but not surrender Kosovo", "Kosovo is Serbia", with complaints against the Albanians in Kosovoa. Here the logic of the opporessed is obvious - to be with the strong. It's awful.

The TV has shown for the fifth time in these days the film "The Battle of Kosovo", and the programming is nearly all of this type.

Conversation with friends in Kosovo - Prishtina:
For several hours yesterday I was trying to get a telephone line, and eventually I was lucky. I heard horrible things and will try to repeat them:

"Nobody sticks their head outside, not even to the door. Yesterday I opened the door for five minutes and was terribly scared. Nobody who wants to live dares go in the treat. We have nearly no communications within the city, the telephones hardly work. Food is scarce, and I wonder "until when"?"

"Near my house there was an explosion, breaking all the windows. I am repairing what I can. I don't sleep. Part of my family has moved somewhere else, I stay here as 'guardian of the house'." This a student of medicine who has stayed looking after her father who has a heart condition. She asks me "What are they saying? What are the predictions?" I stay quiet.

At the end, we exchange words of consolation, support on both sides. I enter again, as so many times during these wars, into the hierarchy of the victims of war: Nothing is happening here on our side of what you are going through over there.

"Gangs are going round the streets, they are people released from the prisons, paramilitaries, who knows... They break into houses, move out the people, kidnap, massacre... Already there's no food left - except we have 50 kilos of flour" (a big family).

At the end the man with a resigned voice: "I won't give a penny for my chances if they come, I can't do anything."


He quoted me what somebody had said these days:
What cynicism! What a trap! What am I to say now when in today's concert people took part (two singers, Rambo and Bajaga) who in the years before always spoke for peace? One of them, Rambo, performed in the concert For Sarajevo we organised in April 1992.

Let me go back to the testimonies from people in Prishtina:

"I don't have any tranquillizers, I don't have more heart medicine. What can I do without these?" She who has always encouraged me, comforted me with hope, now her voice is breaking as, on the point of crying, she thanks me for calling. "This is an area of gloom. We don't have help from any side. They have now left the gangs to do whatever takes their fancy... "

My moral and emotional imperative (no matter how pathetic it sounds) is to spend hours and hours trying to get a line with Prishtina. This morning I have managed, but during the first days it was totally futile.

"Now I see that this type of experiences cannot be conveyed. I have seen so many displaced people or refugees here, and always have thought that I understood them. But now I see what they have suffered. Why don't I go from here? Why do we wait until the last minute? Where do I go now? Although I know that I cannot leave to go anywhere, I pack a back. Although I have food, I cannot eat. These night will be perhaps the last I spend at home..."

Asking about all the people in Belgrade and she, who always has crossed over the ethnic walls, tells this too: "In some building, in a few cases, neighbours speak, Serbian and Albanian; they have agreed "if the police comes, we will speak up for you" (say the Serbs who stay) and "if the UCK (Kosova Liberation Army) comes, we will speak up for you" (say the Albanians). The fear and terror and have brought them closer."

I cannot tell you of what I've felt, but I know that for me - for us in this small human ghetto - it has been enormously valuable. Again the alert sounds. We have turned in to Radio "Free Europe". In prishtina they have had no electricity since yesterday eveing.


The alternative network of support and communication gives us this information:
Vrnjacka Bank and Kraljevo (central Serbia): People fear new military call-ups, there have been many; floods of people (reservists) are arriving, who have died in Kosovo.

Sandzak (south-east Serbia, principally the home of Muslims): "People are going, everybody wants to go. Those of us who stay, we're more than agitated, terrified. The police have requisitioned all the trucks and big vehicles; people mainly fear the paramilitaries".
Radio Free Europe has just said that in Kosova the number of assassinated and executed (not only by the military and police forces, but more by the paramilitaries) in Prishtina has reached 200, but the figures are not confirmed. The number of refugees is growing, arriving a half a million.

Monetenegro: The political climate there is totally different. It's enough to see the papers (I had the chance to see one yesterday) whose content is totally different (Montenegro has not declared a state of war).
Nevertheless, there are many signs that internal conflict is imminent.
Today in Podgorica there was an anti-Western protest by the Serbian Radical Party (Seselj) and this has agitated people. Today 3,000 refugees from Kosovo arrived in Montenegro. Dragan Soc, Montenegro"s Minister of Justice, has publicly refused to order a military call-up and said that "each person should decide in conscience what to do".

Things are getting worse all the time, the "second phase" has started, no comment! You have more information than we here, but we know that this conspiracy of militarism - global and local - dangerously reduces our space and soon there won't be this space. (How to denounce global militarism without denouncing the local? how to denounce the bombings, without denouncing the massacres, the repression.

With the horror the people of Kosova are living with this NATO intervention, they are paying a price even greater than before. NATO IN THE SKY, MILOSEVIC ON THE GROUND. At the moment our human ghetto functions well, with mutual support. Your support strengthens us, it means a real lot. I embrace you with the deepest friendship and tenderness.

By S.Z.
Women in Black, Belgrade
The night of 28 March 1999

Aldrig Mere Krigs Årsmøde har givet sin Fredspris for 1999 til "Kvinder i Sort".
Mere information om "Kvinder i Sort" kan fx findes her og her.

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