“War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” -Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
How different is that from today?
“Didn’t we bomb this place?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure we did.”
Actually NATO did.
The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (code-named Operation Allied Force by NATO) was NATO’s military operation against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that lasted from 24 March to 10 June 1999 and is considered a major part of the Kosovo War. It was only the second major combat operation in NATO’s history, following the September 1995 Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
NATO’s proclaimed goal was to force the Serbian government to end the civil war in Kosovo between the military of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbian paramilitary police forces on the one hand and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UCK) on the other. The Yugoslav Government claimed that it was protecting the minority Serbian population of Kosovo against attacks by the Kosovo Liberation Army. The US State Department previously had classified the KLA as a terrorist organization.
And here I am less than 10 years later looking at a city absolutely thriving! The streets are alive with people; the cafes are full of youth and laughter. It’s an old city, but a very clean city. You look down the alleys and you don’t see garbage, you see garbage trucks. Everything could use a coat of paint and some plaster but this city is on its way to recovery after decades of economic strife. (in 1993 inflation ran away at about 300,000% causing currency to be printed in values of up to 500,000,000,000 Dinar notes. Which were worth, at their height, equal to 6 US Dollars)
To be honest the fact that I knew there had been a war here in my adult lifetime was a big reason I wanted to visit. At the time of the war I’m sure I couldn’t have picked it out on a map. Also, it being a place nestled in Europe that is effectively off the lists of tourists held great attraction for me. I’m sure it will get much harder than this but for now this is the top. Available English is dramatically reduced and Serbian is a combination of Cyrillic and Roman alphabets. NOTE: I can’t read Cyrillic.
Very lucky for me I ran into an American named Matt after getting off the train in Belgrade. It was night and while I had the directions written down I had no idea how useless they would be. Like I said, luckily there was Matt, he speaks some Russian and can read Cyrillic. He didn’t have a hostel so he decided to see if the one I was booked at had any beds. The directions I had to my hostel were transliterated so showing them to the Serbian/Russian speaking cab driver did very little good. What would have been even more challenging without Matt would have been deciphering the street signs, which of course didn’t match my written names at all.
Example: Cika Lubjana
Street Sign: цика лубйиана
We arrived to find basically a two bedroom apartment converted into a hostel. There were six beds in one room and four in another. The “funky room” pictured on their web site was basically a small dining area with a picnic table in it where the staff, and occasionally the guests, would sit together. I’ll say they really did a good job with their advertising here. The pictures looked much better than the real thing. There was one bathroom and the shower was a bathtub with one of those hand held nozzles, no curtain. The finishing touch had to be the transparent acrylic toilet seat inset with coiled barbed wire. Those quirky Serbs…
It took a while for the staff to warm up, so I mostly avoided them. The restaurants and cafes were very cheap and I would visit a different one for each meal. This also gave me an excellent view on the unending stream of humanity flowing up and down the pedestrian mall.
I just walked most of the time. My head cold had made its way to my chest and I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I very effectively got lost trying to find the Tesla museum but by the time I found it, it was closed and would be closed the following day as well. I kept walking and people watching. Eventually finding myself at the two buildings that Belgrade has apparently not chosen to rebuild after the bombings and it’s hard to imagine what it was like here when that happened, maybe these shelled out carcasses serve as a reminder.
I hope to visit this place again in 10 years to see how much further it has come. With 30% growth for the past several years and a hope to join the European Union… I can only imagine what it will be like.