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Serbs in Yugoslav Capital Rock with Anger at the West

March 29, 1999

Article from: The Washington Post
Article date: March 29, 1999
Author: Guy Dinmore

Several thousand Serbs ignored the wail of air raid sirens and a breakfast-hour NATO airstrike on the city’s outskirts to cheer and chant at a “music against the bombs” rock concert this morning that turned into an outpouring of anger and defiance against NATO and the United States.

Despite heavy rain, people walked their dogs and brought their children to the concert in the capital’s central Republic Square, where they unfurled banners proclaiming, “Clinton, Hitler, Fascists” and made vulgar sexual references regarding President Clinton.As the allied airstrikes against Yugoslavia moved through a fifth day, anti-Western sentiment was building in Belgrade, even among residents who have not been supporters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Windows of the U.S. Embassy, as well as the American, French and British cultural centers, have been smashed with rocks and their walls painted with swastikas.

The anti-Western sentiment was on display outside Belgrade as well. Today a crowd of Serbs celebrated Saturday’s crash of a U.S. F- 117A stealth fighter in the town of Budanovci, northwest of Belgrade, by jumping up and down on one of the plane’s wings. The rock festival here in the capital was held at the same venue where two years ago residents staged daily protests against the Milosevic government. But instead of being met with jeers and whistles, as they were in the winter of 1996-97, police mingled with the crowd, bobbing with the beat. “Sorry, we didn’t know it was invisible,” read one placard, mocking the downing of the radar-evading stealth fighter.

Milan, a middle-aged electrician who has little liking for Milosevic, tried to explain why Clinton and his European allies are mistaken in their belief that Yugoslavia can be forced to accept a Western autonomy plan for Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic. Many Serbs regard the Western plan as a step away from independence for Kosovo and its ethnic Albanian majority. Citing a Serbian proverb, Milan, who refused to give his full name, said: “Better war than capitulation. Better a grave than being a slave.” A year ago, Milan’s son Nebojsa did everything he legally could do to evade military service. Today, Milan said, his son intends to volunteer to fight in Kosovo.

Since few Serbs have satellite dishes or short-wave radios, their main source of information is now state-run television, which is broadcasting its programs on all channels, including previously independent networks. Few Serbs are aware of the scale of the massive displacement of people in Kosovo, or if they hear foreign reports, they refuse to believe them. Information on what is happening in Kosovo is hard to glean from Belgrade because telephone connections to the province are difficult.

State media are reporting that the ethnic Albanians flooding to the border are fleeing NATO air raids. Reporters were escorted by the Yugoslav army today to Budanovci, where the U.S. stealth fighter crashed. They were shown the plane’s sheared-off wing lying in a cornfield just yards from farmhouses. Its black, radar-absorbing skin was peppered with eight bullet holes of medium caliber, revealing its interior. Witnesses claimed that a Yugoslav fighter jet had first shot the plane and then fired a heat-seeking missile. They said they saw the burning F-117A circle twice and then crash in pieces. Army officers prevented reporters from seeing the rest of the wreckage. Col. Branko Vasilievic said it was for their own safety, as they feared another attack by NATO to destroy the remaining evidence of the high-tech plane.

One official said he had heard a report that a “Russian trade delegation” had visited the site, and Serbs said they could hear Russian voices in the background of footage of the wreckage broadcast by state television. Villagers said they had no idea what happened to the pilot, who was rescued by U.S. forces hours after the plane went down and flown to safety. But Zivko Lepotic, a 45-year-old farmer, said he would have “wrung his neck” if he had found him.

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