Tag Archives: society

“We have scars”: Remembering and moving on in post-War Belgrade

Author’s note: I am a journalism student, so I wrote this in partial fulfillment of an assignment for my study abroad program on April 23rd, the anniversary of a bombing that killed 16. The NATO bombings are a sensitive topic in Serbia, but as an American I didn’t hear about them until I met some Serbian students in college. It was really revealing to speak with the people in this article, and challenging to reconcile my own “outsider'” perceptions to the tension between everything around me-physically and ideologically! But that’s what study abroad is all about, isn’t it?

BELGRADE – It is very quiet in this part of Tašmajdan Park, a stark contrast to what would have been a deafening sound 16 years ago when the building across the parking lot — Belgrade’s RTS (Radio Television Serbia) — was hit with a NATO missile, killing 16. But now the building stands half-obliterated, silent and exposed. Such a poignant reminder that, even when tucked behind St. Mark’s Church on one of Belgrade’s busiest boulevards, is still a raw and emotional sight.

On April 23, 1999, six hours before the strike, journalist Sanja Radan, who worked for RTS at the time, left work to stay in her friend’s home, concerned her apartment was too close to potential bombing targets in the city center. “Suddenly my friend and I heard specific sound of projectile flying over the building,” said Radan.

“The first pictures of that ruined building of RTS were played on city television Studio B…Pictures of people stuck in the rubble, without arms and legs, wounded and killed,” she said. “I started screaming, it was my first reaction that was stronger than me.”

The RTS building in Belgrade, Serbia, burns after it was hit with a NATO missile on April 23, 1999, killing 16 inside. Photo via SerbiaSos.

The RTS building in Belgrade, Serbia, burns after it was hit with a NATO missile on April 23, 1999, killing 16 inside. Photo via SerbiaSos.

The bombing was part of the NATO mission to force withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo, it’s southern autonomous province at the time. During the split of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, ethnic Albanian Kosovars began pushing for independence from Serbia. NATO, who intervened to end human rights violations against the Kosovars and later supported the Kosovo declaration of independence in 2008, justified bombing RTS due to its role as the Milosevic (Serbian president) administration’s main propaganda arm.

Unlike previous targets, the RTS was not completely evacuated before the strike. Some, like journalist Tamara Skrozzo, believe that the government used the 16 deaths—all technicians, not journalists—for their own purposes: “There is a theory that those people were put there as targets; that the government was informed but refused to evacuate in order to use the victims for their propaganda…I believe it 99.9 percent,” she said.

Others maintain that NATO should never have bombed a civilian building. Even Skrozzo, who was a young “opposition” journalist for an independent anti-Milosevic radio station in 1999, agrees.

“Those people who were killed weren’t the editors or journalists supporting Milosevic, but technicians who just wanted to feed their families and live their ‘ordinary’ lives,” she said. “Being angry [about it] doesn’t describe the feeling.”

While RTS manager Dragan Milanovic was sentenced in 2002 to ten years in Serbian prison for failing to protect his employees—the only conviction in relation to the bombing so far, Serbian, NATO or otherwise—many questions remain unanswered.

But no answers, no reason and no blame will bring the 16 employees that perished in RTS’ rubble back to their families. These are the sixteen families that erected a small monument in this sleepy corner of Tašmajdan. An upright stone sits opposite the bombed remains of RTS heralding “Zašto?” —which means “why?”—in Serbian Cyrillic to passersby.

It seems that all of Serbia, like Radan, identifies with these families’ pain. “I can’t sleep at night like so many Serbian people…[The families] are still asking themselves “why” just like me,” she said.

Flowers for the bombing's 16 victims are laid in front of a monument the 16 mourning families erected in Tasmajdan Park. The current RTS building can be seen in the background. Photo via B92.

Flowers for the bombing’s 16 victims are laid in front of a monument the 16 mourning families erected in Tasmajdan Park. The current RTS building can be seen in the background. Photo via B92.

“It’s really a tragedy, but you know in wars and situations like that, it happens. Always innocent people,” said 21 year old student Nevena Nikolić. Only six years old during the campaign, Nikolić’s three year old friend was killed in her home by wayward shrapnel from a different hit in Belgrade.

Between them—Radan, Skrozzo, and Nikolić—none denies the questions and pain still present in Serbian society. Some remains, like half-destroyed buildings, serve as everyday reminders. Nikolić said, “We have these scars, like destroyed buildings and such. But you know it’s more than 15 years from that moment…Now you just live with it.”

“[The buildings] are a small punch in the chest whenever I go by them, a reminder that is neither constructive, nor painful—just emotional,” said Skrozzo. “However, I wouldn’t change those remains, wouldn’t reconstruct the buildings, just like I wouldn’t change my memories of the bombing. Those were very hard times…but also times of getting to know yourself, rearranging your priorities and times of growing up.”

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Filed under Anlan in Serbia, Eastern Europe

An International Ambition

sunHistory has thrived upon an ability to dream.  I have never received the comprehensive road map, or tutorial for direction in my life.  What I have had is inspiration that grows from wisdom and stories by sometimes seemingly insignificant interactions.  My dreams are composed of ideas that I have built based upon these interactions.  A benefit of taking on the world without following any given example is that I have been able to explore several influences rather than rely on a select few.  Many aspirations have been absorbed from my experiences, and Costa Rica has allowed me to find pieces of my professional ambitions that I had not previously pondered.

While abroad, I studied the culture and climate of Costa Rica, the Spanish language, and the literature of Latin America.  I attend Elon University, which is a liberal arts university in North Carolina that requires one to take a variety of courses outside of one’s selected major.  This practice brings depth and breadth to an already extraordinary institution of learning.  By encouraging this type of study, students can look to fulfill several of the requirements abroad, which is essentially what I accomplished.

In addition to classes, however, I found inspiration in the adventures that were had within Costa Rica.  The biggest shock in the short time frame that I have been home in is the scheduled nature of society.  Expectations for an individual at nearly any age are abundant and unwritten.  In order to acquire the common concept of success, one must plan his or her life years in advance, and always be looking for something more.  Our schedules and lives are mechanized, and however important this far-sighted requirement is – a person can easily forget the benefit of adventure.  To not be retained by the circulation and commonality of routine is where true success lies.  Costa Rica has shown me that there is so much more to life than the brand of getting rich quickly that many seem it idolize.

gilmanWhen I think of the leaders that I would like to see in the future, they are individuals that have explored outside their comfort zone.   The greatest professional ambition that I have gained was a greater idea of the leader that I will be.  To settle in one area, and to base ideas from within the confines of one’s own four walls is constraining not only to the individual, but to those who admire that person as well.  Not traveling, but rather experiencing diversity is absolutely essential in order to gain creative and intellectual perspectives that would otherwise be absent.  The leaders of this upcoming generation will be culturally intelligent and able to talk across difference in order to innovatively engender success.  A global motivation is now hard-wired into my system, and it forever will be one of the several ideas that guide the direction of my dreams.

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Filed under Central America, Dan in Costa Rica

Define Homesick

A couple days ago we were talking about the impending end of our program and one of the other girls asked me if I was homesick.  I think I surprised both of us with my answer because I said no.  I said that since I go to college on the other side of the country from my family, I already don’t see them during a semester so I’m not seeing any less of them.  And with Facebook and Skype I’m in contact with them just as much if not more so while I’m here than when I’m in Boston.  The only difference is that in Boston I can pick up a phone at any time during the day and make a call to hear my mom and dad’s voices.  I can’t do that here in part due to the six hour time difference and in part due to the expense of international calling.  Instead I use chat and video chat and they follow this blog to hear about the day to day and special experiences that are just too long and involved to share during a quick conversation between classes.

That’s not to say I don’t miss home.  I do.  I miss being able to cook whatever and whenever I want.  I miss the ability to walk out into the streets and be able to communicate fluently with every person I see.

To know exactly what is expected and what is appropriate and what is not is something that we learn during childhood.  In this full immersion study abroad I have become a child all over again relearning how to interact with my surroundings.

Unlike most children however, I have even less of a vocabulary than a four year old learning right from wrong in preschool.  I also have my own preconceived notions that I need to overcome and evaluate.  Notions such as the appropriate reaction to a guy who cat calls me when I’m walking down the street being to laugh it off, make eye contact, and keep walking.   In Morocco you are supposed to stay quiet, eye contact is seen as an invitation, and you definitely keep walking and don’t react.

Everyone misses something or someone at some point in their lives.  For me, homesickness has always been a specter of overwhelming anxiety and a desperate urge just to return to what is familiar and known and therefore safe.  I have felt this before on other international experiences.  I felt this on my first day of college orientation when I was on my own in a crowd of four hundred other students on the other side of the country from my family and everything seemed to be happening at warp speed and I had no clue how to respond to any of the people around me, where to go, what to say, or who anybody was.  I broke down in tears and was on the verge of returning to my dorm room to hide and curl up with a book and my phone when one of the older students saw me and came over to give me a hug and guide me through the process making sure to give me her phone number and introducing me to other students who were in a similar situation.

I had a professor once who told us to try to see the world through a child’s eyes.  She said that children see everything around them as bright and new.  Even their own hands and feet are a surprise to them.  I have been forced to do that this semester.  Living in a home without western plumbing and needing to go to the public baths once a week in order to thoroughly wash reacquainted me with my body in unexpected ways.  Being unable to communicate with words and facing the difficulty of pronouncing those words that I should remember forces me to relearn the non-verbal communication that we all take for granted and may not even notice as adults.  In a culture that was more similar or in more similar surroundings, this challenge of communication might have been seen as frustrating or embarrassing as I can’t even talk about basic needs.  However, here where everything is so different, it seems new even as I walk through doors that have been standing for almost 1,000 years.  There is no ability to compare the situations I find myself in here with the situations I face at home and so when I don’t know how to react, there is no anxiety.  There is no safety net to fall back into, nowhere to escape to and most importantly when I fall I have to get up and keep going.  People here are understanding and hospitable.  If I fail, they will point out how and why but they won’t judge me as bad or wrong, simply different.

The last item on the packing list that SIT sent to us before our departure for Morocco was a sense of humor.  This is the lightest item in your suitcase and the most important one.  The larger your sense of humor, the better.  After all, it needs to be big enough to cover you and all your situations, not just the external situations of others.  So long as I can laugh at myself, laugh with others, then I know I’ll be just fine!

*Note: this graph on Culture-Shock shows the stages that many of our study abroad participants experience.  It seems like Danielle has embraced the cultural differences (stage 5), so it may be hard for her to leave Morocco when the program finally ends.  

Culture Shock Graph

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Filed under Danielle in Morocco, middle east