Assault On The Serbs: They showed patriotic movies on TV as bombs rained on the fatherland

The Damage
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The Independent Online
THE WAILING of air raid sirens cut through the spring sunshine in the Yugoslav capital just before midday yesterday, shattering the calm in streets that were far quieter than is normal in this hectic city.

On the morning after Nato's first air strikes, only a few shoppers and dog-walkers could be seen wandering through the city centre. Pavement cafes that had bustled a few days before were almost deserted. Even the familiar lines of black market money changers had disappeared from the central Republic Square.

Milica Jericic shrugged off the dangers of not seeking a bomb shelter. "You are not safe anywhere," she said, sipping coffee in one of the few establishments still open.

Dozens of grim-faced people formed lines in front of a basement bomb shelter in the centre of the city after the sirens sounded, prepared to rush inside if necessary. But many just stood around, sheltering in doorways and under awnings.

Branko Vujinovic, 70, voiced the anger and defiance of so many Serbs in the city of 2 million. "I am old, and I don't care about the bombs," he said. "All this! And just because we want to defend our country."

He added: "We won't give up a square metre of what has been our land for centuries," referring to the West's demands for Albanian autonomy in the province of Kosovo.

A Yugoslav civil servant said: "We were scared as hell when the bombing started last night." But she added that her immediate response had been only been to wash her hair and paint her nails. "I couldn't believe it. I knew it was coming but I couldn't believe it."

Nikola Dimitrijevic, a 19-year-old shop assistant, who is a Serb refugee from Croatia, was philosophical. "They are going to bomb us until we surrender Kosovo," she said. "He [Slobodan Milosevic] will do it in the end.

"We don't cause any problems for Americans. Why do they bomb us? I suppose we are standing in their way."

Most shops in Belgrade were shut yesterday. But in those that were open there was no sign of panic buying.

One reason for the relative calm among the Serbian population was that few people in Belgrade had seen or felt anything from the first Nato raids on military targets situated outside the city.

One local television station, Studio B, showed footage of the northern suburb of Zemun, with a column of smoke rising in the background. But the smoke was far off, and Zemun is well away from the city centre.

State television deluged the viewers with old Second World War films, lionising the Communist partisan fighters of Yugoslavia's former dictator, Josip Broz Tito. Sandwiched between the films were patriotic videos of military music, accompanied by slow-motion shots of marching soldiers.

There was little sign yesterday of President Milosevic, the country's elusive dictator, following his rare, televised address to the nation on Wednesday. Yesterday's news programmes showed only a brief shot of him meeting members of his National Security Council.

One of Yugoslavia's deputy prime ministers, Vuk Draskovic, yesterday said his country was willing to discuss a peace deal for Kosovo but remained opposed to Nato forces entering Yugoslav territory to police an agreement.

"Our state, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia, are victims of brutal aggression of Nato air forces," said Mr Draskovic, once a die-hard opponent of Mr Milosevic and now his helpmate. He was addressing dozens of journalists at a packed press conference.

"Who can expect this nation to call in [Nato]... as a peacekeeping, peace- making force?" He said the authorities believed that 10 people had been killed and 38 wounded in the first air strikes.

"This is the Hiroshima of international law, of the charter of the United Nations, of morality and the fundaments of our civilisation," Mr Draskovic continued, in fluent English.

"This is the first time since the Second World War that one European sovereign state is the victim... We are victims because we are defending our country from the project of Greater Albania."

He went on to tell foreign journalists that we were "not the enemy", and were welcome to stay in Yugoslavia to report on the situation. "We need you, we need the truth, because we are protecting the truth. We need you as a window to public opinion."