By Katie Heroux
Belgrade, On a beautiful cloudless day in Tasmajdan Park, in central Belgrade, Radio Television of Serbia’s (RTS) building stands in stark contrast to the green grass, the budding trees, and laughter of people in the distance.
It sits open for any passerby to catch a glimpse inside to see the frayed wires, the exposed bricks, the holes in the walls. You can even spot the various animals that call it home.
This building is part of the RTS headquarters which was bombed by NATO on the morning of April 23 1999 in an effort to end the Serbian military’s war with independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. RTS was seen as a mouthpiece for former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, an outlet to spread his propaganda, and NATO used this to justify the bombing of the news station.
Sixteen people died in the bombing.
Zoran Rajovic, head of one of the technical departments at RTS for the last 33 years, blames NATO for the death of his friends and colleagues but adds that the “management of the TV station had a responsibility to keep people safe.”
Dragoljub Milanovic, the general manager of the station, was sentenced to 10 years in jail for failing to evacuate the building. This sentence came after the fall of Milosevic, of whom Milanovic was a close ally.
Rajovic was not in Belgrade at the time of the attack – he was with a team of colleagues working in a remote location to keep RTS running in case of an attack.
On April 23 1999 at six minutes past two in the morning Rajovic was watching RTS when suddenly the screen went blank.
“We knew at that moment what happened,” he said calmly with his eyes cast down.
Now when he looks at the destroyed building he thinks of the monument in front depicting the graves for the two people whose bodies were never found.
This monument is meant to serve as gravestones for these two victims; their names and images are plaques on the stone. Dozens of flowers between the two gravestones set the mood of remembrance, with the bombed building as the backdrop.
“To me all 16 disappeared right there, it doesn’t matter that the other 14 were buried somewhere else, to me that is where they disappeared,” said Rajovic.
The victim’s families erected their own monument dozens of meters away on which the names, ages, and job titles of the deceased are written.
Rajovic hopes that one day, when there is money to do so, the building will be renovated with space reserved to commemorate what happened there. For now, there are two monuments and 16 trees, lined up behind the gravestone monument, to preserve the memory of his colleagues.
Every year on April 23rd at 2:06am and 2:06pm people gather to light candles in honor of those who died during the bombing. Rajović attends every year and continues to invite newcomers.
“This bombing is a war crime, only civilians died… they were sacrificed,” he said. “Those people really died without reason.”