A Belgrade Scar

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The bend in the walking path leads you get the RTS memorial hiding behind a bush of springtime yellow flowers. | Photo: Alexis Traussi

by Alexis Traussi

BELGRADE, The walk from Belgrade’s Old Town to Tasmajdan Park is lined with street signs pointing out famous monuments in Belgrade. But, tucked away in the northernmost corner of Tasmajdan a more jarring memorial hides: the remnants of the bombed Radio Television Serbia (RTS) building and a commemorative stone to mark the event.

Aleksander describes the monument to a dapper Italian doctor named Carlo. They met at the park and Carlo wanted to know more about Belgrade and what happened at this site. | Photo: Alexis Traussi
Aleksander describes the monument to a dapper Italian doctor named Carlo. They met at the park and Carlo wanted to know more about Belgrade and what happened at this site. | Photo: Alexis Traussi

Just a two-minute walk past the park’s bustling activity, a bush of yellow flowers shelters a grey, misshapen stone memorial. It reads Zasto?— Serbian for why—and lists the name of the 16 RTS employees ordered to work on April 23, 1999 who lost their lives when NATO bombed the building that day.

In the background of the park, sits the RTS building. Paused in time; an infinitesimal patch of grass grows between cracks in the building’s decaying frame. Windows hang open. Ceiling paneling, a sink, and a room lined in dark wood remain: the perfect place for pigeons to roost.

NATO’s air raids began in March 1999 to intimidate Serbia’s then president, Slobodan Milosevic, into pulling his troops from Kosovo. The attack on the RTS building was aimed at damaging the C3 (Command, Control, and Communications) network, according to a report from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The RTS bombing was a controversial decision. Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister at the time, claimed RTS was a legitimate target because Milosevic controlled the media and used it to fuel the war in Kosovo.

The day after the bombing, The Guardian newspaper reported that international journalists’ organizations condemned these actions. They argued that killing journalists perpetuated censorship not combated it.

Seventeen years after NATO perpetrated these attacks, the RTS building remains an unofficial Belgrade memorial site.

The RTS building continues to be untouched by time. Even the windows remain opened and closed from after the blast where 16 employees lost their lives. | Photo: Alexis Traussi
The RTS building continues to be untouched by time. Even the windows remain opened and closed from after the blast where 16 employees lost their lives. | Photo: Alexis Traussi

With such a controversial history, memorializing the RTS building brings up painful stories for Belgraders; many locals have personal connections to that fatal April evening.

Aleksandar, 63, remembers the night with tearful clarity. His friend, Milan Joksimovic, was killed in the attack. That morning they were playing chess, Milan left to go to work at his security job and after Aleksandar “never saw him” again.

“The US government bombed us, destroyed us” said Aleksander while reaching into his pocket for a pack of cigarettes. The RTS building, for him, is a perfect example of American aggression.

“We don’t want to repair the building,” said Aleksander with conviction, his face never flashing a smile, “because we want the younger generation to remember and not forget.”