25 May 1999

Yugoslavia: NATO waging a war of deprivation

25 May 1999
The Times of India

NATO waging war of deprivation

By Siddharth Varadarajan

BELGRADE: NATO bombers have been attacking power stations near Belgrade with missiles and special graphite bombs, causing widespread black-outs. There is even a rumour that the city’s water supply plant has been bombed since many neighbourhoods have been without a drop of water for two days. As most bakeries use electric ovens, there is a shortage of bread. Even though hospitals are considered priority users of electricity and water, patients too have been affected by the severe power shortage.

On the streets, there is a great deal of anger at NATO’s new tactic of increasing psychological pressure on ordinary civilians. Milan, a retired glassworker who remembers the Nazi bombing of Belgrade in 1941, said even Hitler was more humane. “They never bombed power plants, water, hospitals and bridges like Clinton is doing.” The destruction of Yugoslavia’s cigarette factories at the start of the war is also seen as part of NATO’s psychological warfare against civilians. “They know that a smoker has to smoke. In fact, at moments of stress, we smoke more.” But cigarettes are now in short supply. Tense and lengthy queues snake around streets where a few cartons suddenly arrive. On the black market, the price of a packet is double.

“We can deal with everything — the bombing, the shortages — but when you cut off electricity and water, life becomes intolerable,” said Sima Avramovic, a law professor at the University of Belgrade. For more than 72 hours, the Avramovics and their neighbours in a Belgrade suburb have had no water or electricity. So what do they do? Well, they all sit around, chat and tell jokes. Mrs Boba Avramovic had everybody in her dark apartment roaring with these two: “What do you get when you cross Bill Clinton with Dolly the sheep?” “Bla-a-a-a-a-i-r.” And “How did NATO decide to attack Yugoslavia?” “Madeleine Albright went to Brussels and said, ‘Look here guys, either we make love or we make war!'."

Sima explained how his family has been coping. “Fortunately, my son Gaga is in love and is simply full of positive feelings about life. Since our neighbourhood is reasonably safe, his girlfriend’s parents have allowed her to stay at our house, so he is absolutely thrilled”. Gaga and his girlfriend, Lola, bounced in a few minutes later, lost to the world. “As for my daughter, Gaga taught her to play the guitar when the bombing started and now she spends every evening singing with her friends.”

Boba was apologetic that the planned feast for a foreign visitor had been ruined by NATO. Most people use electric stoves, so prolonged power cuts mean no cooking. Food stored in refrigerators and freezers spoils. And then there is no bread. Nevertheless, she procured a jar of caviar and a platter of salami. Neighbours chipped in with cake and coffee and soon she had a full-scale party going.

“Don’t be fooled by the fact that we are always laughing,” Yelena, a law student, later said. “People here have internalised their problems.” She pointed to her stomach and clenched her fists. “We all feel sick inside. After all this is over, we are going to have tremendous problems.” Boba remarked: “All Serbs will either become crazy or they will be alcoholics.”

On the drive home, I told the taxi driver that in India we are used to power cuts. “I don’t mean any offence to your country,” he said kindly, “but a power cut caused by lack of efficiency or genuine shortage is not the same as one caused deliberately by enemy bombing. This is so much more frustrating. It makes me mad.”

NATO commanders have spoken about the need to bring the war closer to the people of Belgrade, and disrupting their power supply seems to be the weapon of choice. “The violence that results is emotional, not physical,” said one Yugoslav businessman who asked his name be withheld. “From Clinton’s point of view, disturbing the mental balance of the people is better. There is no footage of mangled concrete and bloodied bodies that will make him look like the fascist he really is.”

The comparison with Hitler may be exaggerated but it is all pervasive. Street art and posters routinely depict Clinton with Hitler’s trademark moustache. Sima’s 15-year-old daughter has a large sheet of paper on her bedroom wall. “Monica”, it says simply, “Don’t be like Eva Braun.” When I mentioned this to an acquaintance, he said, “We have nothing against Monica. But I am sure most Yugoslavs wouldn’t mind if Clinton ended up in a bunker without water, bread and electricity.”

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