Recently, air raid sirens marked the 10th anniversary of NATO bombing in Serbia — strikes that were largely aimed at Serbia’s military but resulted in some civilian deaths.
NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 in response to Slobodan Milosevic’s crackdown on ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo. About 10,000 people died in the Kosovo war. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
“The attack on our country was illegal, contrary to international law, without a decision by the United Nations,” said Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic on the anniversary.
Serbia’s Decade Of Denial
One spring day about 20 years ago, I entered the building of Serbian State Television in Belgrade to file a report for Sarajevo television. As I prepared to file my daily report, someone stopped me and said an order had come “from above” that my reports had to be approved prior to transmission. The day before, a documentary I’d done on the situation in Kosovo had aired and apparently the people “above” didn’t like it.
Ten years ago today, NATO launched air strikes against Serbia. The 78-day war ended with the Serbian Army’s withdrawal from Kosovo. Various sources say that between 1,200 and 2,500 people were killed. NATO suffered no casualties and did not use ground forces.
But now, a decade later, who can claim victory?
NATO forced the Serbian withdrawal and some 800,000 ethnic Albanians who had fled the region were able to return. The bloc prevented the crisis from pouring over into neighboring countries. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, and to date 54 countries have recognized the new state.
Serbia could claim victory, too, of a sort. Strongman Slobodan Milosevic was finally defeated. Democratic elections were held, and Serbia today is moving toward EU integration. Voters have handed the nationalist parties that organized violent protests against Kosovo’s independence last year a series of defeats.
But, so far at least, this isn’t one of those happily-ever-after stories.
NATO’s action against Serbia created a precedent that the alliance is still trying to grapple with as part of its large post-Cold War identity crisis.
Kosovo’s independence still hasn’t been recognized by two-thirds of the countries in the world and, according to Serbian sources, about 200,000 ethnic Serbs have left the region. (Prishtina denies this.) The central government in Prishtina is still struggling to assert control over the entire territory of the country.
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