Jasmina Tešanović: 10 years after NATO bombings of Serbia

(Ed. Note: The following guest essay was written by Jasmina Tešanović. Full text of essay continues after the jump, along with links to previous works by her shared on Boing Boing. I'm sorry that I'm posting this one a few days late, was on the road last week and mostly off the blog other than our live video broadcast marathon from SF -- but didn't want to let this go unblogged. XJ)

La vita e' bella

Even though I wrote this ten years ago, even though I am not a futurist or a pessimist, I did not expect this kind of development of events: after all this time, after such an experience, history does not, unfortunately, walk with big steps as Zoran Djindjic, our killed president, hoped...

On 24 March, 1999, NATO begin air strikes on Yugoslavia.

26 March 1999, 5.p.m.

I hope we all survive this war, the bombs: the Serbs , the Albanians, the bad and the good guys, those who took up the arms, those who deserted, refugees going around the Kosovo woods and Belgrade’s refugees going around the streets with their children in arms, looking for non existing shelters, when the alarm for bombing sets off. I hope that NATO pilots don’t leave behind wives and children whom I saw crying on CNN as their husbands were taking off for military targets in Serbia. I hope we all survive but not this world as it is. I hope we manage to break it down: call it democracy call it dictatorship. When USA congressman estimates 20 000 civilian deaths as a low price for the peace in Kosovo, or president Clinton says he wants a non harassing Europe for American schoolgirls, or Serbian president Milutinovic says that we will fight to the very last drop of our blood, I always have a feeling they are talking about my blood, not theirs.

And they all become not only my enemies, but beasts, werewolves, switching from economic policy and democratic human rights to amounts of blood necessary for it (as fuel). Today is the second aftermath day: I went to the green and black market in my neighborhood, it has livened up again, adapted to new conditions, new necessities: no bread from the state, but a lot of grain on the market, no information from the official TV, so small talk among frightened population of who is winning. Teenagers are betting on the corners: whose planes have been shot down, ours or theirs, who lies best, who hides best victims, who exposes best victories, or again victims. As if it were a football game of equals.

The city is silent and paralyzed, but still working, rubbish is taken away, we have water, we have electricity... But where are the people, in houses, in beds, in shelters... I hear several personal stories of nervous breakdowns among my friends, male and female. Those who were in a nervous breakdown for the past year, since the war in Kosovo started, who were very few, now feel better: real danger is less frightening than fantasies of danger. I couldn’t cope with the invisible war as I can cope with concrete needs: bread, water, medicines... And also: very important, I can view an end, finally we in Belgrade got what all rest of Yugoslavia had: war on our territory. I receive 10-20 emails per day from friends or people whom I only met once: they think of us, me and my family and want to give me moral support. I feel like giving them moral support, I need only material support at this moment, my moral is made out of my needs.

(more after the jump...)

People are gathering at homes, to wait for the bombs together: people who hardly know each other, who pretended or truly didn’t know what was going on in Kosovo or that NATO did mean it all the time. We sit together and share things we have: solidarity and tenderness brings the best parts out of Serbian people: there it is, I knew I liked something about my people...

My German friend phones me, she says, I didn’t leave the country, I didn’t take out my children, even my new born grandchildren, I am fed up with everything, I want to lead my personal life. My feminist friend asks me to have a workshop with our group of conscience raising, my other friend wants us to go to Pancevo, the bombed city at outskirts of Belgrade, to give a reading of my novel. But there is no petrol, we must buy bicycles.

We phone each other all the time, seeking and giving information: I realized children are best at it, they prefer to be active than passive in emergency situations: we grown ups harass them with our fears and they are too young to lie or construct as grown ups: they deal with facts and news. Mostly we are well informed, with children networks, some foreign satellite programs and local TV stations.

I think of the Albanians in Kosovo, of my friends and their fears, I think they must be worse off then us: fear springs up at that thought, it means that it is not the end yet. I have no dreams, I sleep heavily afraid to wake up, but happy that there is no true tragedy yet, we are all still alive, looking every second at each other for proof. And yes, the weather, it is beautiful, we all enjoy and fear it: the better the weather, the heavier bombings, but the better the weather, probably more precise bombings. I wish I only knew do we need good or bad weather to stay alive?

And finally, I saw Benigni’s film “La vita e’ bella,” the night before the first bombs fell. The day after it started happening to us too. Maybe, I shouldn’t have seen it, but now it is too late: and I realize, in every war game led by Big Men the safest place is that of a victim.

PS. At this moment the alarm is interrupting my writing...the alarm is my censor and my timing. I switch on CNN to see why the alarm is in Belgrade, they say they do not know. Local TV will say it after it all is over.

Jasmina Tešanović is an author, filmmaker, and wandering thinker who shares her thoughts with BoingBoing from time to time. Email: politicalidiot at yahoo dot com. Her blog is here.

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Previous essays by Jasmina Tešanović on BoingBoing:

- Made in Catalunya / Lou and Laurie
- Dragan Dabic Defeats Radovan Karadzic
- Who was Dragan David Dabic?
- My neighbor Radovan Karadzic
- The Day After / Kosovo
- State of Emergency
- Kosovo
- Christmas in Serbia
- Neonazism in Serbia
- Korea - South, not North.
- "I heard they are making a movie on her life."
- Serbia and the Flames
- Return to Srebenica
- Sagmeister in Belgrade
- What About the Russians?
- Milan Martic sentenced in Hague
- Mothers of Mass Graves
- Hope for Serbia
- Stelarc in Ritopek
- Sarajevo Mon Amour
- MBOs
- Killing Journalists
- Where Did Our History Go?
- Serbia Not Guilty of Genocide
- Carnival of Ruritania
- "Good Morning, Fascist Serbia!"
- Faking Bombings
- Dispatch from Amsterdam
- Where are your Americans now?
- Anna Politkovskaya Silenced
- Slaughter in the Monastery
- Mermaid's Trail
- A Burial in Srebenica
- Report from a concert by a Serbian war criminal
- To Hague, to Hague
- Preachers and Fascists, Out of My Panties
- Floods and Bombs
- Scorpions Trial, April 13
- The Muslim Women
- Belgrade: New Normality
- Serbia: An Underworld Journey
- Scorpions Trial, Day Three: March 15, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day Two: March 14, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day One: March 13, 2006
- The Long Goodbye
- Milosevic Arrives in Belgrade
- Slobodan Milosevic Died
- Milosevic Funeral


  1. I take it she talks from a Muslim side when she says, “I hope we all survive this war, the bombs: the Serbs , the Albanians”.

    Well, I won’t discuss the sadness and suffering of war, but pragmatically speaking, it’s a novelty that the Americans&Co. rushed to make someone autonomous based on _religion_. So, ok, you have Serbs, Albanians and… muslims? Wtf?

    On another note, of course Kossovo was declared autonomous based on ethnic criteria. When the Serbs asked for areas, whithin Kossovo, to join Serbia on the basis that they are populated by Serbian populations, everyone said “Gosh no, we can’t tear Kossovo apart!”.


    True, too many people suffered and for various reasons. But don’t let that take our eyes away from the real reasons behind the decisions of the Big and Mighty…

  2. “But don’t let that take our eyes away from the real reasons behind the decisions of the Big and Mighty…”


  3. “I think of the Albanians in Kosovo, of my friends and their fears, I think they must be worse off then us”

    Most definitely. Perhaps a bit of context is in order.

    From 1998 to 1999, Serbs forcibly expelled one million Kosovar Albanians from their homes, including 800,000 beyond Kosovo’s borders. As they had done in Bosnia earlier in the same decade, Serbs engaged in a massive, systematic campaign of murder, rape and destruction. Just look for the book A Village Destroyed for a glimpse of what took place.

    There is widespread denial in Serbia about the crimes committed by and on behalf of Serbs. Serbs protested massively against Milosevic only after he lost Kosovo (and with US funding, no less), but not against the atrocities he orchestrated.

    When there is serious reckoning in Serbia, when the myth of victimhood is dispelled, the country will be able to move forward. It’s the same reasoning that underlies calls for Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush and the rest of the neocons to be brought to justice for their crimes.

  4. I always enjoy reading Jasmina’s entries here. If my Serbian was better, I’d read her blogs. One day maybe. Working on it.

    Geekman- I think there were economic reasons underlying the genocides…. Genocide is just a side effect.

    Gryzor- Not everyone in Kosova was or is happy with the independence, which is just the Ahtisaari Plan effectively, and is not really independence at all (imagine regions of the US having parallel political institutions with Mexico or Canada, for example). Go read Albin Kurti’s updates at New Kosova Report for a different point of view on the ethnic tensions and the UN/EU role in all of this:


    Kurti is an Albanian democracy rights activist who was first arrested by the Serbs during the war and later by the UN for the deaths two non-violent protesters who were shot by UN GUARDS, though nothing stuck, because it was bogus nonsense that they were holding him on. It’s clear to me they were holding Albin in jail and then under house arrest to shut him up while the negotiations went ahead without him mucking up the process with his talk of “democracy” and the “people” and “independence”.

    I agree about a reckoning in Serbia @#5 but I sadly think it will not happen anytime soon. As long as Mother Russia is willing to back Serbia, and we are willing to back Kosova, nothing serious will change in either place. No really independent Kosova and no owning up in Serbia.

  5. @Geekman: Hahaha, good joke mate!

    @ #5 Anon: Well, I haven’t heard the 1 million figure before but I’ll take your word for it. What you fail to mention/see/understand is that for several years before that (I’ve seen US papers mentioning this in the late eighties) the Albanian Kossovars were staging attacks including murder, rape and destruction against the Serbian civilians and authorities. You don’t see that being mentioned anymore though…

    @ mindysan33: I didn’t say everyone is happy. On the contrary, I know the hell that Kossovo has become in many, many aspects. What I was saying is that, sure,t hey dismantled Serbia in the name of giving independence to minorities, but in doing so they teared away areas populated by Serbs. And when these Serbs ask for independence, or a reunion of their areas with Serbia, everybody acts shocked…

  6. #7 Maybe because it wasn’t all that true, Gryzor, or when it was, it was more reactionary than anything else. Don’t forget that Kosova, an area inhabited largely by Albanians in 1912, was basically occupied territory for years and years in both Yugoslavias, with Albanians and other Muslims being constantly either forced out, coaxed out or being asked or forced to convert, both in religion and by changing their name (from a Albanian one, to a Serb/Slavic one)? Tito being a Croat means little here as, A) he was a relatively committed Communist and B) because Ranković pretty much ran things (ministry of the interior, military police and the all important political police, UDBA) until he was deposed in the 60s (only because he put a microphone over Tito’s bed). Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, etc were all alright because they were at least Slavs, and of course, Albanians were often considered barely human or Slavs who just don’t know it. I’m not going to say that no violence against Serbs occurred and it is just as horrible as crimes committed against anyone. Basically, yes everyone suffered. But there are crimes of ethinic cleansing on Serbian national hands, if you will (not that I buy much into national identity over all). But I certainly don’t believe that all Serbs are racist against Albanians. I do believe that the Serb government under MiloÅ¡ević was guilty of some pretty heinous crimes, and not many people paid for them. Karadžić wasn’t caught for ages, and I think he was given up for something (fuzzy on what else was going on with Serbia at the time… July 08 was when he popped up? Some negotiations with the EU? Anyone?). And as far as I know, Jasmina is as a much a Serb as you can get. She just doesn’t spout the party line, if you will, bless her.

    But to your original point, about how we are enforcing ethnic difference, yes, oh yes. I agree. So does Kurti. Go read his views on the parallel structures in Kosova connected to Beograd.

    #8 – Anon – I’ve found information on the Balkans, especially involving Yugoslavia and the aftermath of the wars, to be deeply problematic. I don’t know about the exact numbers cited at number 5, but I’m not sure I’d trust Wikipedia on this.

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