Global Alternatives 2024
Memory vs Oblivion: On the 25th Anniversary of the NATO Aggression Against Yugoslavia

Young people in Serbia have a negative attitude towards the NATO alliance. The latest public opinion polls, conducted annually by the Institute of European Affairs in Belgrade, show that people aged 18-29 years — those who were born after 1999, or were children during this period — show less willingness to reconcile and cooperate, or consider bloc membership, compared to their parents, Milana Živanović writes.

In January 2023, Christopher Hill, the US Ambassador to Belgrade, was interviewed by the Serbian media; he stated that for him “the biggest disappointment was that things that I thought were decided a long time ago are still fresh in people’s memory. When I came here last March, I was surprised that every day they remembered 1999. States, like people, need sustainability, but also they need to complete some things in order to be able to move further.” Two months later, on the 24th anniversary of the start of NATO aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the diplomat spoke again: “I know that the Serbian people will never forget that terrible time, nor should they,” he added. “The Serbian people will never set aside their grief, but I believe they are strong enough to set aside their grievances.” Then came a call to the Serbian President to “forget the past and move forward, all for the sake of the generations of our children and those who come after.” What should Serbs forget about, and how exactly does the younger generation evaluate the events of 25 years ago?

On March 24, 1999, without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council, the NATO alliance began its aggression against a sovereign state — the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The military operation, called Allied Force, lasted 78 days. According to the article by journalist Igor Gojkovic, published in 2019 in the International Affairs journal, as a result of the bombing, 25,000 residential buildings, 470 km of roads, and 595 km of railways were destroyed or severely damaged; 22,000 tons of bombs were dropped, including 37,000 cluster bombs. According to Serbian data, losses among soldiers and police totalled 1,008 people, casualties among civilians are estimated at 1,200 — 2,500 people.

Did Europe Die in Pristina?
Rein Müllerson
It was exactly 20 years ago (the NATO bombardment started 24 March 1999) that for the first time after the Second World War somebody, in complete disrespect of international law, used massive military force in the very centre of Europe. This aggression, covered by the fig leaf of a humanitarian intervention, quite an oxymoron, opened the door wide to further unprincipled use of force in other places.

In Serbian society, there is almost complete consensus on the events of 1999. The operation is assessed by older and younger generations as a gross violation of international law. A legal assessment of the events of 1999 was given by both Serbians and foreign lawyers (the Serbs called the events in question the bombings, but as the lawyers emphasized, they were referring specifically to the aggression of the NATO alliance). Both generations strongly condemn it.

The operation, which in Serbian society is called “Merciful Angel” for as yet unknown reasons (there are several versions of the story ), is well remembered by the older generation. It will not be able to forget the feelings of fear, powerlessness and anxiety. The emotional state of the parents, especially if they experienced psychological trauma, could not but affect the lives and perceptions of what happened to their sons and daughters. Young people, who were only children in 1999, remember broken windows, the sound of an air raid siren, the image of an airplane in the right corner of the TV screen, which meant the danger of airstrikes; stickers with a picture of a target. Those who were teenagers at the time, and understood the seriousness of the situation to a greater extent, will not be able to forget being in their basements, the sounds of explosions, or neighbours running up the stairs to the sound of an air raid siren, since it was not recommended to use the elevator due to the possibility of a power outage.

Those who were born after 1999 only know about the bombings from the words of their parents, grandparents, and family members. But since today these include twentysomethings who either study at universities or have graduated from them, they have enough knowledge about the events that they did not witness. They also learned about them at school — aggression and its consequences are discussed in history lessons in both the 8th grade and in high school. Undoubtedly, the younger generation has found information on the Internet and social networks, of which they are active users.

It is noticeable that young people have a negative attitude towards the NATO alliance. The latest public opinion polls, conducted annually by the Institute of European Affairs in Belgrade, show that people aged 18-29 years — those who were born after 1999, or were children during this period — show less willingness to reconcile and cooperate, or consider bloc membership, compared to their parents. Over the past few years, strong anti-NATO sentiments have been recorded in society: according to the results of the latest public opinion poll, conducted in September 2023, 84.2% of the country’s residents opposed Serbia’s membership in the alliance. The percentages shown speak of the culture of memory, its strength, as well as an understanding of the international situation and geopolitical realities. However, Russophile sentiments in the country are quite strong.

The younger generation, which, according to a survey by one of the NGOs, considers, along with operation Desert Storm, NATO aggression against Yugoslavia to be the biggest crime of the 1990s, actively expresses its position regarding the bloc, and takes part in rallies against the alliance. Law students in the country organize events to discuss the legal aspects of the operation and its consequences.

Popular attitudes in Serbian society towards the events of 1999 today can be gauged by the reactions of users of the website Politika to US Ambassador Hill’s statements; they saw them as insulting. Readers reacted very sharply to the diplomat’s statement, which was reported by the Serbian media, noting in their comments that the grief has not disappeared, that those responsible for the crimes committed must be punished, brought before the court, and reparations must be paid.

In Serbian society, the assessment of the events of 1999 and discussions about it were again brought to the fore against the backdrop of Russia’s special military operation. Accusations against the Russian Federation of striking civilian targets during the operation, which have been heard in the West since February 24, 2022, are assessed in Serbian society as hypocrisy. Politicians of NATO member countries who bombed civilian targets in Yugoslavia (residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and maternity hospitals), unfoundedly accuse Russia of committing such actions.

The US Ambassador to Belgrade, Christopher Hill, is right about one thing — indeed, the events of 1999 are often remembered in Serbian society. And this is correct both from a humanitarian, human, and from social and political points of view. This is a tribute to the victims, but also a reminder of the violation of human rights. Physical reminders of the aggression still remain: the destroyed buildings of the General Staff in the centre of Belgrade, the Radio and Television Centre of Serbia, as well as monuments to the victims, including children and employees of the television centre.

Kosovo as a Formative Experience for Russia
Andrey Sushentsov
The 20th anniversary of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia passed almost unnoticed in the West. The elites and general public there do not understand that Yugoslavia’s tragedy has become a major formative experience for Russia’s relations with the West. NATO’s intervention in Yugoslavia was a turning point that ushered in a period of conflict in relations between Russia and the West.
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