Remembering the Past

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RTS-photo-Marissa-Hank

By Marissa Hank

BELGRADE – The late afternoon sun creates an orange tint over central Belgrade. Across from Tasmajdan Park, the Radio Television of Serbia’s (RTS) building stands glowing, as a painful memorial to the atrocities that occurred there almost twenty years ago.

It remains open. The outer wall was destroyed when NATO bombed the RTS headquarters on the morning of April 23, 1999. Sixteen employees were killed.

Citizens who pass by on their way to work in the new RTS building or just strolling through the park, rarely take a moment to stop and look at what remains of the damaged building. For the citizens of Belgrade, the NATO bombing is too painful a memory to remember.

If anyone were to catch a glimpse inside, all that remains to be seen are frayed wires, exposed bricks, and holes in the walls. One might even spot the various animals that now call this building their home.

Dozens of meters away from the wreckage, the victim’s families erected their own monument on which the names, ages, and job titles of the deceased are written. Every year on 23 April at 2:06 am and 2:06 pm, people gather to light candles in honor of those who lost their lives.

In an effort to end the Serbian military’s war with ethnic Albanians seeking independence in its then southern province of Kosovo, NATO decided to intervene. RTS was seen as a mouthpiece for former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, as an outlet to spread his propaganda. For NATO, this was a means to justify the bombing of the news station.

“Four of [the victims] were doormen, and four or five more were stylists. Not a single reporter or anyone important for the program [were victims], because it was halfway through the night,” recalled Bogdan Mrkobrada, who has recently retired after 40 years working as a video mixer with Radio Television of Serbia.

The victims were “only the people who were not involved in anything,” Mrkobrada added.

“It’s like if you have a problem with the New York Times, and you drop the bomb on the New York Times [building] in the middle of the night, only the doorman and some people who are not important [for the daily output] die”, said Nenad Sikimic, a Belgrader who had lived just blocks away from the RTS building in time of the bombing.

To this day, Sikimic wonders, “Why? What’s the use of that?”

International and local voices have disagreed over whether the RTS building was a legitimate war target.

“[They] didn’t accomplish anything with killing those people in that building particularly. The program continued a few hours after,” Mrkobrada said as he smoked his cigarette.

The look in his eyes saddened, but his voice remained full of passion as he reflected on the tragic events of almost twenty years ago.

He explained that the work at the station was expected to move on in a new location, as though over a dozen colleagues were not just killed.

“I think it was a brutal demonstration of force to make everybody scared,” Mrkobrada said. “But, nobody was scared because we were sad about those people who died.”