Rage unites battered town
Pancevo is the most-bombed settlement in northern Serbia. As residents
shelter in cellars by night, they share fury at the West
By Maggie O'Kane in Pancevo
Tuesday April 13, 1999
At about the same time as Madeleine Albright was rallying the 19
members of Nato yesterday morning to continue the bombing, a couple
were sitting in the sun outside the highest apartment block of the
most bombed town in northern Serbia.
Pancevo is the kind of town that will probably never make it into the
guide book. Twelve miles north of Belgrade, past the green
triple-spanned bridge over the Danube, Pancevo has its own little
river complete with clapped-out cruise boats and overhung with budding
willow trees. It also has a huge oil production plant. So, for almost
three weeks, the skies over Pancevo's pretty streets have been busy.
The couple on the bench, Bijlena and Vladimir Korski, live on National
Army Street and have been there for most of their 30 years.
She is a pharmacist, and when she tries hard she resurrects schoolgirl
English to say about the war: "It's not so bad, really. We could live
this way for a long time for all Nato's power this is not really a big
"Hopefully after a while they'll just get bored and leave us alone."
Does she blame President Milosevic for the conflict? Would she like to
see him gone?
"Right now," says Bijlena, "I have only one enemy and that's the
people who are bombing me and my children."
The Korskis have two children, Milan, aged eight, and Marco, aged
three. When the bombing started they bought each of them a white
rabbit, to "try and distract them and make things nice".
At night when they are waiting for the air raid sirens, they replay
videos: Aladdin, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.
"I am," Bijlena says, "full of rage. I want the best for my children.
I want them to play with computers. I don't want them to be scared."
Her neighbour Sonya, a 38-year-old lawyer, wanders by: "In the last
two weeks of this bombing started I've got to know people I've seen
around for years. Now we're speaking to each other, we're all in the
"The bombing has brought us closer together."
Next to Pancevo's old church two plump altar boys sit in Father
Milovic's presbytery drinking orange juice and finishing off the last
of the painted hard-boiled eggs from Easter, each delicately coloured
in shades of purple, orange and yellow.
After 50 years of being 'crucified' by communism, and now finally,
being able to practise their faith freely, the priests of the Serb
Orthodox Church are not known for their radical voice or for even
mentioning Kosovo refugees. But Father Milovic understands his flock
well. "The West expects us to behave the way people behave in a modern
Western democracy and have the same intolerance towards bad
leadership," he says.
"But here, we never really left the communist mind behind, and he who
controls the television controls everything. The people are without
So, on the day that Ms Albright rallied Nato and President Clinton
addressed the United States, insisting that the fight would go on, few
Serbs blame Mr Milosevic for the crisis.
As an information black-out remains in force on state television, the
explanation for their country's tragedy is left to such people as
Aradunik Mihailovic, an academic writing in yesterday's
According to Mr Mihailovic, the crisis was triggered by the
'Bilderberg group', a secret organisation of companies, politicians
and businessmen who want to control Serbia.
He goes on to reveal, in Serbia's most popular newspaper, that the
shadowy group is chaired by Lord Carrington, that Bill Clinton is on
the board and that the US special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, and Sadako
Ogato of the United Nations are also secret members.
And so it goes on: a passenger train hit by Nato killing nine people,
and children in Pancevo watching Cinderella in a cellar.
Despite Nato's claims that oil supplies have been hit and the army
will soon be paralysed, owners of private cars in Belgrade are still
buying petrol. In the city's expensive restaurants on Skandarija
Street, elegant women in black, with round sunglasses and shining
hair, are taking lunch.
The couple sitting in the sun in one of Serbia's most damaged towns
see the conflict as most people do: "We're in the shelters together,
we're on the bridges together and I suppose if it comes to it, people
will have to fight together. You can't break us that easily."
The pressure from Nato may aim to make Mr Milosevic back down, but it
is not echoed by his own people.
While the Serbian political elite watches the struggling factions of
Western democracy grapple with dissent on CNN as they are forced to
justify every action, every deadly missile on live television Serbia
speaks with one voice. That of the victim of a Western conspiracy.The
dissenters have been silenced. Independent radio has been shut down
and on Sunday the most vocal critic of the government, Slavko
Curuvija, was shot down returning from a walk on Belgrade's Knez
Mihailovic Street, killed with a single bullet to the spine.
Driving over the Danube from Pancevo, over rusting barges that have
lain there for nine years since the West first imposed sanctions, a
old man brings out a copy of Politika, which has, as usual, scoured
the Internet for any criticism of the Nato campaign.
Yesterday it quoted from Spanish media and reported on a motion
condemning the bombing from the far left of the Mexican parliament:
"Look," says the man, "they are all with us. They are protesting
against Nato in Spain and Germany, everyone is lining up against the
"We're very brave people. We've been through the Turks, the Balkan
wars and the second world war, and God knows what this is going to
© Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 1999
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