A blow at Milosevic kills `The Simpsons'

NATO gets personal, strikes media offices, political headquarters

War In Yugoslavia

April 22, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- It was bad enough that NATO attackers knocked out his television station and destroyed his offices. But did they have to destroy the new shows from America?

That was the lament of TV Pink program director Robert Nemecek yesterday after NATO missiles slammed into a 23-story high-rise that housed political and media offices associated with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

As he stood in front of the scorched and wrecked building, Nemecek ticked off the losses -- new episodes of "Chicago Hope" and "Friends" and 123 programs of "The Simpsons."

"It is burnt," the burly program director said in halting English.

With loud explosions and a raging fire, NATO's war roared into the back yard of Yugoslavia's ruling regime yesterday. The pre-dawn aerial assault was a not-so-subtle NATO message that the war against Milosevic and his family is growing more personal.

The office building included the headquarters for Milosevic's Socialist Party. It also housed three media outlets, including Radio and TV Kosava, which is owned by Milosevic's daughter, Marija.

In all, four radio and four television stations were knocked off the air when up to three cruise missiles slammed into the building, which is topped by a huge antenna.

Casualty figures were unavailable. One official claimed that no one was killed or injured, and the foreign minister's spokesman, Nebojsa Vujovic, said: "It's hard not to predict civilian casualties. There were people inside."

By daylight, the destruction was evident. Shattered glass and hunks of metal lay in a parking lot. The lobby was blown out. The top third of the building was blackened by a smoldering fire. There was a crater in the roof. Two Yugoslav flags hung from 15th-floor windows.

"We are now striking at the very heart of his [Milosevic's] bloodstained regime, and we will do so again and again," British Defense Secretary George Robertson said in London, adding that the building was one of the regime's "nerve centers."

NATO spokesman Jamie P. Shea said the building is "the center of [Milosevic's] propaganda machine" and was an "important link in the air defense command and control and communications net of the power structure of Yugoslavia."

"If I can take the image of the human body, we will go for the brain as much as we will go for the fingertips," Shea said.

But around Belgrade, people saw things differently.

As they waited for trams and buses or lined up for gasoline at a station named after the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the Bosnian war, hundreds stared at the building in near disbelief. To see a building that has come to symbolize a regime battered and emptied was a sobering experience.

State officials fumed over the attack.

"They bombed the greatest commercial and business center in Belgrade," Vujovic said.

Then, venturing into the sort of hyperbole that has come to the war of words between Belgrade and the West, he added: "They bombed not only the symbol of this capital but of modern Europe."

Vujovic said the building housed many businesses, including jewelry stores, coffee shops and travel agencies. "It was not a military facility," he said, "but a symbol connecting old-fashioned Belgrade and New Belgrade" -- a district of high-rise apartments, offices and hotels.

"That was a terrorist attack directed against the basic value -- private economy," Vujovic said.

He said that by knocking out radio and television stations, NATO was trying to snuff out his country's media. It is widely assumed here that Serbia's state television, which operates at another site, is also on the NATO target list.

"They want to silence us," Vujovic said.

But station executives at the bombed site said they would resume broadcasting within days.

"We will work again, and we will tell the truth to the end," said Dragana Dojcinovic, a station manager at Radio S, a youth music outlet tied to the Socialist Party.

"I think the attack was targeted at the media," Dojcinovic added. "Milosevic does not sit here. He sits at another place. Here is only media."

Dragisa Kovacevic, director of the all-sports SOS television station, blamed President Clinton for the attack.

"He will not be missed," Kovacevic said. "We do not hate the American people, but we do not like people doing this."

Nemecek, the TV Pink program director, actually likes the United States -- U.S. television programs, that is. His is the station that brings the "X Files" and other Western hits to Yugoslavia, even though the station owner is a member of the Yugoslav Left party, controlled by Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic.

Nemecek hated losing that new batch of shows. He even shook his head when he realized that the bombing created the ultimate cliffhanger, because his station aired all but one episode of a soap opera called "Esmeralda." The last show was lost in the bombing.

"What was the point in hitting TV Pink?" he demanded. "What, they don't need television that promotes Western values?"

After buying American, Nemecek said the station might look elsewhere, because the profits earned from sales to Yugoslavia "went into making bombs to destroy us."

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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