War-weary residents are ready for peace

Belgrade: Citizens are saddened by the devastation of their nation, resigned to foreign troops in Kosovo

War In Yugoslavia

June 04, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- For months, they railed at bombs falling from the sky, demanded to see the eyes of their enemy and vowed to keep foreign troops out of Kosovo.

But in the end, after intensified airstrikes and mounting devastation, many people here were ready for peace at any price.

So, when they heard that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had reached an agreement to end the Kosovo conflict, defiance melted into acceptance as Belgrade's residents digested the news.

"I don't give a damn who is coming to Kosovo," said Dragan Mirac, a 21-year-old student. "We just want to stop bombing so people are not getting killed."

In some ways, this was just another typical day in Belgrade. There were air-raid sirens, sonic booms and rumors, as people waited for the deal to be announced in a society where news is carefully controlled.

In fact, most people didn't know the government had accepted the agreement until the evening news on state television. The matter-of-fact reports didn't even try to turn the announcement into a victory celebration. Instead, they carefully followed the government line that Yugoslavia's territorial integrity was preserved.

Even as the Serbian parliament debated the agreement terms behind closed doors, citizens wandered up to foreign journalists to ask what was happening inside. Told that a peace deal was being accepted, most couldn't quite believe what they had heard.

One soldier asked a journalist, "Have we surrendered yet?"

"There will be peaceful dreams for my kids," said Alisa Dunic, a 36-year-old who works in a bookstore. "The most important thing is that people are not killed. Americans will come to Kosovo one way or another."

Some said it would have been better to accept a deal far sooner, instead of having the country devastated by airstrikes.

"So much destruction for nothing," said Ljerka Tatic, a 57-year-old grandmother who was in a park.

Others mourned the country's losses.

"The peace deal cannot bring back dead people and destroyed buildings," said Ljiljana Kazic, 38. "Maybe we should try to make a better deal than this one. And I think if Americans are coming to Kosovo that is a defeat for us."

And there were some who were disappointed that the fight didn't continue.

"I'm not happy because this peace deal is forced and it cannot be good for us," said Svetozar Jovanovic, a pensioner. "Anything that is coming by force is a loss for us. I'm 66 years old, and I would rather see Germans in Belgrade again than Americans in Kosovo."

Those who followed the twists and turns of the war, the negotiations and the historic battle between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, were realistic in their assessments of what happened. Months of war could have been avoided if only negotiators had inched just a little closer to achieve a political settlement in the early spring.

Now, Yugoslavia's economy is devastated, it's treated as an international pariah, and it is poised to accept foreign troops in Kosovo.

"We didn't get anything here," said Dejan Savic, 40. "We just lost our people and factories. Did we need so much destruction and then sign a deal? It's not important who will come into Kosovo. As far as I'm concerned, Tony Blair and Madeleine Albright can come to Kosovo."

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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