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Falling Skies: Serbian Children Recall the Horror of 1999 NATO Bombing

© AFP 2023 / Andrej IsakovicA man walks past a poster with the reading “Ten years of NATO occupation of Serbia”, and displaying images from 1999 NATO air campaign against Serbia and Montenegro.
A man walks past a poster with the reading “Ten years of NATO occupation of Serbia”, and displaying images from 1999 NATO air campaign against Serbia and Montenegro. - Sputnik International
Eighteen years after the beginning of NATO’s aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia, Serbian children who were born during that troubled time still bear the emotional scars left by war.

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In 1999, the United States and its NATO allies utilized the air power of the formerly defensive organization to conduct air strikes in support of an internal Yugoslav conflict between Belgrade and the breakaway region of Kosovo. Their actions took a toll on the lives of the young children of that generation, leaving scars they still wear today.

Andjela S. was born in Pec, a city located in the Serbian province of Kosovo and the former seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church. After the events of the 1999, however, all of the city’s Serbian residents had to abandon their homes and flee for their lives. According to Andjela, a great injustice was done to Serbia back then, when Western propaganda portrayed Serbians as the chief culprits behind the war.

"I know they blamed us for allegedly trying to exile all Albanians from Kosovo. That’s how it was portrayed, and then the airstrikes began. And even though they (NATO) said that they’re only going to bomb military targets, they didn’t care about the civilians who were dying and couldn’t understand what was going on," Andjela told Sputnik.

She told how her parents and relatives were hiding in the basement while NATO warplanes were bombing the city.

"My grandfather was already old and sick back then. Due to all that colossal stress he ended up having a stroke," the girl added.

According to Gavrilo M., the first thing that comes to his mind is the downing of a US F-177 stealth aircraft, which remains on display to this day near Belgrade’s airport.

"It proves that even high tech weapons can be defeated by military tactics and technology," he said.

To him, the events of 1999 became “the end of the Yugoslavia’s break-up and the finale of one global geostrategic game that lasted two centuries.”

"My father wasn’t fighting, but he was keeping watch at the faculty building where he was working. They told me that mother was terrified by the airstrikes, that she panicked a lot; most of the time she was just lying down. But I do know that once when the sirens started wailing she hid under a table," he said.

Uros C. was born in Lipljan, a city in the Serbian province of Kosovo, and lived there until 2004. While he was growing up, the boy learned from his parents about the Western media “orchestrating” the humanitarian disaster in Kosovo.

"My father was in the army when the airstrikes began. Mother told me that she was shocked, that none of them knew what was going on and that they were scared. Sometimes the airstrikes made night look like day, just how they show it in some movies. They told me that I was the only ray of light amid the darkness," Uros said.

He lived in Kosovo until he turned six, but Uros still remembers buildings riddled with bullets, bomb craters and areas contaminated by the depleted uranium weapons used by NATO. And when the NATO-led KFOR mission came to Kosovo, the Serbians living there forgot what ‘the freedom of movement means’.

"I remember that I could only go to kindergarten and back home. Walking anywhere else was dangerous," Uros recalls.

Uros’ family fled Lipljan on March 11, 2004, just a few days prior to a wave of anti-Serbian pogroms that swept across the city.

And while Serbian schools do not teach students much about the NATO airborne campaign, Uros believes that there’s no need to spend much time teaching about the events so recent.

"The conflict continues, and if the schools were teaching only the Serbian version of those events, that would’ve had a negative impact on the situation. But we will always regard these events as aggression, while the foreign aggressor will regard them as merely gaining access to Kosovo’s mineral resources, which is perfectly legitimate in the aggressor’s eyes," Uros said.

Andjela S. also added that the paragraphs in history textbooks describing those events appear “too censored” and usually look like this: a few sentences from official releases, and then a few sentences describing the author’s point of view.

"Yes, they also contain fragments that describe our view of those events, but essentially the textbooks stick to what the US designated as the official opinion," Andjela explained.

However, Biljana K., history teacher at the First Belgrade Gymnasium, told Sputnik that the school program adopts an unbiased approach to that particular time period, and that the Serbian society and expert community appear divided on those events.

"There are those who would say that it was good, and that the airstrikes marked the beginning of the end of Milosevic’s reign. But there are also those who would say that we were innocent, and that the whole world conspired against us for reasons unknown. The truth is somewhere in between, and it’s definitely not black-and-white," she said.

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